20 May 2011


Until today, I had never laid eyes on the reclusive CONNECTICUT WARBLER.  I have heard them numerous times (including this spring already in Michigan) but they have always eluded me.  Well, today that changed.

I bushed-whacked through Emma McCarthy Lee Park and Brookside Park here in Ames.  After stomping through the forest at Brookside for a couple of hours, an adult male CONNECTICUT WARBLER popped up and perched in a small tree about 15 feet off the ground.  The giant, mondo white eye-ring was so incredibly obvious, it's not even funny.  By the time I reached for my camera, however, it didn't feel like being seen anymore.  I guess I have to live with that.... and so do you.

Here is the general area that I flushed the bird from:
View CONW in a larger map

The habitat was interesting to me; it was in the middle of the forest but with a fairly open midlevel.  It had considerable ground-cover; a layer of nettle about 1 foot high and numerous downed tress/limbs creating some tangled areas.  Together, it made for tricky walking (wet logs you can't see are surprisingly slippery, just ask my shins).  Here is the habitat that I flushed the CONW from:

The same area was great for MOURNING WARBLERS and OVENBIRDS as well as numerous thrushes and other warblers.  In fact, I tried to make this female MOURNING WARBLER into another CONW but, alas, it's definitely not.  However, this WAS the first female MOWA I had seen this spring in Iowa:

So both parks combined to yield 19 species of warblers this morning:

Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Palm Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Connecticut Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Canada Warbler

The number of MOURNING WARBLERS and OVENBIRDS was impressive to me, I tallied 8 MOWAs between the two parks (4 at each).  The first four at EMLP were all singing this morning.  I estimate a total of 14 OVENBIRDS between the two parks and yet very few were heard singing.

Thrushes were in good numbers today with easily 30+ SWAINSON'S THRUSHES between the two parks.  I also had 6-10 GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSHES including several that were in full-song (which was a first for me here in Iowa).  Lastly, I had my second VEERY of the spring at Brookside.

Empids were around in big numbers as well.  Brookside Park had at least 7-8 YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS, some at eye level.  The ACADIAN FLYCATCHER remains at EMLP; it was singing again this morning.  Other empids such as LEAST FLYCATCHERS and WILLOW/ALDER FLYCATCHERS were also numerous today.

Regarding vireos; besides the common species, I also had a PHILADELPHIA VIREO at Brookside Park:

The PALM WARBLER is almost getting-late so I snapped a grainy picture of it:

19 May 2011

Acadian Flycatcher & warbs

The best bird at Emma McCarthy Lee Park in Ames this morning was a singing ACADIAN FLYCATCHER.  I wondered if I would find one there this spring but I wasn't betting on it.  I even toyed around and recorded it via my phone.

Otherwise, I tallied 15 species of warblers and 5 species of vireos:

Northern Parula
Orange-crowned Warbler (1)
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush (1)
Mourning Warbler (2, 1 singing)
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Canada Warbler (5, 1 has been singing constantly from the same spot for more than a week now)

Red-eyed, Philadelphia (1), Warbling, Yellow-throated, and Blue-headed Vireo (1).

Also Swainson's Thrush (4)

Here is one of the MOURNING WARBLERS from this morning:

We're only 10 or so days away from this ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER being on the late-side:

The park has been very reliable for PHILADELPHIA VIREOS this spring.  Here is another one:

17 May 2011

Hooded Warbler, EMLP

The best bird at Emma McCarthy Lee Park this morning was this HOODED WARBLER:

It was in the vicinity of the wooden footbridge over the stream:
View Hooded Warbler in a larger map

We also had 15 other species of warblers including this CANADA WARBLER:

... and this male CAPE MAY WARBLER:

This park continues to yield BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS; another was heard and seen this morning. Here is a poor photo of it singing:

We also had:

Swainson's Thrush
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Philadelphia Vireo
Barred Owl

Back at home, Ashley spotted this ORCHARD ORIOLE, a new yard bird:

16 May 2011

Another BWWA

A quick noon walk through Brookside Park in Ames yielded 16 species of warblers:

Orange-crowned Warbler - 2
Tennessee Warbler - 5
Blue-winged Warbler - 1
Nashville Warbler - 10
Yellow Warbler - 10
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 3
Magnolia Warbler - 5
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 2
Palm Warbler - 1

Blackpoll Warbler - 1
Black-and-white Warbler - 4

American Redstart - 1
Ovenbird - 1
Mourning Warbler - 1
Common Yellowthroat - 5
Wilson's Warbler - 4


Gray-cheeked Thrush - 1
Swainson's Thrush - 4

If you aren't familiar with where Brookside Park is located, here is a map:

View Brookside Park in a larger map

I was surprised by having another BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, this one also singing away:

One of the boldest and most inquisitive warbler species in the woods these days are MAGNOLIA WARBLERS:

This warbler is the opposite; the shy and skulking MOURNING WARBLER:

It had been a week or two since I had last seen a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER but today yielded two of them:

There were some thrushes around including this GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH enjoying the shade:

This SWAINSON'S THRUSH gave me a better look:

 If you fancy yourself a pro with empids, tell me what these are.  In the meantime, I think they're a "Traill's" Flycatcher (Alder or Willow):

Lastly, I was lucky to look up at the right time from my porch at home to see this high-flying OSPREY migrating north:

I thought the OSPREY could be the tip of the iceberg so I sat and watched the skies for a couple of minutes but no kites, only a BANK SWALLOW which was also a yard bird.  +2.

15 May 2011

State birds and more

Yesterday I made a quick dash to the southeast corner of Iowa targeting 2 state birds.  Surprisingly, I managed to snag both fairly quickly.

First was a singing PINE WARBLER at the Donnellson Unit of the Shimek State Forest:

The other target were the BEWICK'S WRENS near Argyle.  Here is a photo that shows both wrens at once:

Here is a map with pins where I had both target birds:
View BEWR and PIWA in a larger map

There was a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER singing from the parking lot at the Croton Unit at the Shimek State Forest:

Also present at the previous location was WORM-EATING WARBLER, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, and SUMMER TANAGER.

This morning we tallied 17 warbler species at Emma McCarthy Lee Park in Ames:

Northern Parula - 2
Orange-crowned Warbler - 1
Tennessee Warbler - 2
Nashville Warbler - 6
Yellow Warbler - 4
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 1
Magnolia Warbler - 5
Blackburnian Warbler - 2
Palm Warbler - 1
Black-and-white Warbler - 5
American Redstart - 25
Ovenbird - 3
Northern Waterthrush - 4
Mourning Warbler - 2
Common Yellowthroat - 8
Wilson's Warbler - 4
Canada Warbler - 3

Here is a MOURNING WARBLER that briefly popped up:

MAGNOLIA WARBLERS were fairly common:

There were multiple CANADA WARBLERS this morning:

13 May 2011

23 species of warbs, Ames only

I went to Emma McCarthy Lee Park here in Ames this afternoon and it wasn't long before I realized that the trees were dripping with warblers (or maybe it WAS the rain?).  I ended with a respectable 23 warbler species.  They are ordered from most common to least common:

American Redstart (easily most abundant, maybe 100+?)
Tennessee Warbler (40?)
Yellow Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Black-and-white Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler (10?)
Northern Waterthrush
Mourning Warbler (5?)
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Northern Parula
Blackpoll Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler (2)
Blackburnian Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Palm Warbler (1)
Bay-breasted Warbler (1)
Canada Warbler (1)


Veery (1)

Swainson's Thrush (5)
Philadelphia Vireo (5-8)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
"Traill's" Flycatcher

I didn't get many clean photos with the dim lighting; many are pretty noisy.  First up are a couple photos of a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER:

As usual, the PHILADELPHIA VIREOS came zipping right in if I squeaked or pished:

Incessantly giving its "purwee" call, this YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER was a new one for the year (for me):

This "Traill's" Flycatcher wasn't calling so I couldn't tell if it was a WILLOW or ALDER FLYCATCHER:

Not great pictures by any means, but this BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER is identifiable:


This species stole the show in terms of numbers, there were likely more than 100 AMERICAN REDSTARTS this morning lining the stream banks.  At one point, I saw 4 on a tiny island in the stream at the same time.  Here is an adult male:

Sitting quietly along the streams proved to be quite fruitful.  I witnessed this COMMON YELLOWTHROAT coming out into the open:

... and this adult male GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER coming down for a drink:

This CAPE MAY WARBLER also came down:

"How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a...." nevermind:

Lastly, if you own this truck, maybe you shouldn't haul your 30-gallon bag of home trash to the park and fill up the park trash cans:

11 May 2011

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds

There are a couple of books out there that I honestly think every serious birder should have.  Does the new Crossley ID Guide to eastern birds go on that list?  Well, more on that later.  A little more about the book itself.

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds is a 530 page book published by Princeton University Press.  It was published in 2011 and is listed as $35.00.

Size:  The first thing that you will notice when you pick up this book, if you're able to, is that it's BIG.  This is one of the largest bird books on my shelf; it's larger than the Sibley Guide in almost every respect except in the number of pages (The Crossley Guide is 530 pages from cover to cover).  Here are some photos of it next to the Sibley Guide:

General layout:  Most basically, this is a photographic guide but it's unlike any other photographic guide I've seen.  Why?  Instead of just one or two photos per species, Crossley photoshopped in as many as 50 different birds of the same species, each in a different posture (flying, flocks, perched, foraging, etc).  It's a very creative way of displaying some of the behavior exhibited by various species.  For example, on page 276 for the White-crowned Pigeon, Crossley shows the pigeons perched in a treetop (which is accurate).  On page 267 for the Burrowing Owl, he shows BUOWs on fence posts and even some owl heads poking up over a mound of dirt (also accurate). 

Each common eastern species usually has an entire page devoted to it (keep in mind that this book covers eastern birds only, NOT coast-to-coast).  For example, page 416-417 has the Blackburnian Warbler on the left (showing 15 BLBWs) and Cerulean Warbler on the right (showing 10 CERWs).  For less common eastern species such as vagrants, Crossley packed up to four species on a single page (Hammond's Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, and Cordilleran Flycatcher).  Below each collection of photoshopped birds is the common and scientific name, a brief description of the bird, a line or two about behavior, and some ID tips.  Also included for most species is a range map.

Range maps:  In my opinion, any bird book with accurate range maps is a step ahead of others (as a beginner, I put in a lot of my time studying maps).  Crossley's range maps seem to be very well done.  Similar to other bird books, he portrays year-round areas with purple, summer-only in orange, winter-only in blue, and vagrancy patterns with a dotted line.  On pages with multiple species, however, the range maps are quite small and it's difficult to make out fine details.  

Backgrounds:  Crossley does something that I've never seen before; he put a lot of effort into the background of each layout.  He chose to paste all the birds on a landscape typical of where you might find that species; the tern backgrounds are of beaches, the thrush backgrounds are of woods, and ibis backgrounds are of marshes, etc.  One page in particular really stood out to me as outstanding: Brown Creeper (pg. 379).  Finally a book that shows exactly how you will see your first Brown Creeper!

I can safely say that I've never seen so many people in a bird book.  That's right, PEOPLE.  Whether it is the older gentleman peering at you from behind an Eastern Phoebe, the 4 gentlemen playing golf behind the Chipping Sparrows, or a bikini-clad woman on a beach behind some Bar-tailed Godwits, the backgrounds didn't cease to amuse me.  Plus, Crossley's affinity for Cape May is obvious; just look at the writing on the boats behind the Least Terns and Laughing Gulls!  

4-letter bird codes:  Finally, a book with the shorthand alpha codes!  I prefer the use of the 4-letter bird codes for checklists (NOPA, CERW, BBWD, etc).  No book that I know of has actually included these before so I am happy to see that Crossley included them twice; on each individual species page and in a 4-page index at the end.  Now if only I could actually remember to use RNEP for Ring-necked Pheasant and RNPH for Red-necked Phalarope (don't get me started on why those are the official codes for those species, it doesn't make sense in my head).

Quality of photos:  Richard Crossley is a well-known and skilled photographer.  No argument there.  The number of photos he must have taken for this guide was probably astronomical.  He took 99% of the 10,000 photos included in this guide himself.  I'm only a beginner when it comes to bird photography but I did notice several photos that were actually blurry or out-of-focus (Bald Eagle, Nashville Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, Connecticut Warbler).  I can't say I blame someone who can't get a perfect photo of a CONW or SWWA though!  It is hardly an issue to quibble with.

Audience:  I've struggled with figuring out what the targeted audience is of this book.  It's toted as suitable for all skill levels but I disagree.  I feel that this book would target mostly beginner birders.  If someone were to take up an interest in birds, this might be a great first choice given that it visually shows habitat and behavior.  However, I don't think the most-seasoned birders will learn much from this book.  I would argue it's more of a novelty item suitable for a sturdy coffee table compared to being in my backseat while I'm out birding.  So ultimately, given the audience, this book could be absolutely mind-blowing or just a collection of pretty photos.

Small quibbles and quirks:  I wondered a few things as I looked through this book.  A) Isn't it a "Saltmarsh Sparrow" and not "Sharp-tailed Sparrow"?  He got the "Nelson's Sparrow" right but goofed on the other one.  Whoops!  B) What's with the hanging lightbulb on the BRTH page?  Is that needed for the ID?  And last but not least, C) is that GBBG really going to eat that AMCO??

So in short, what are my main thoughts?  I think Crossley has taken bird identification down a new and refreshing road and his main concept is a brilliant one.   The aspect of displaying behavior through photographs is a new concept and one that I hope continues to catch on with field guides.  I would absolutely love to see this type of guide be streamlined down into a field-oriented book with more side-by-side comparisons with less of a focus on amusing props and backgrounds.  The book states that it will make me a better birder; will it?  Probably not... but it WILL make me a stronger one.

* Uses photos to illustrate behavior and habitat
* Shows various postures per species
* Includes 4-letter bird codes
* Good range maps

* Large size
* Only eastern species are included
* Poses are non-consistent (no side-by-side comparisons)
* I catch myself being distracted and playing "Where's Waldo" to find all the birds per page

* I liked the scenarios with 2 species per page (pg. 301); it creates the opportunity to compare side-by-side.  Trimming down the full-page scenarios would also help trim down the overall size of the book.
* I would remove the background props that don't help the identification (boats, buildings, people)

I encourage you to find more information about the book, including seeing plates, by visiting:  


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher for review purposes, but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.