30 May 2014

What's in a Cheeseburger?: Alphabetical Consonants to Describe Bird Song

Premise

What if we arbitrarily assigned consonants to tell us about the relative pitches in a bird's song?
 I am going to try this.

Cheeseburger

So, for example, take the chickadee song often described as "cheese bur ger". This word doesn't automatically tell me which syllables are of higher or lower pitch than the others. But what about the last two sylables - "bur" and "ger"? Are they both on the same pitch? Not always. Sometimes the "ger" is the same pitch as the "bur", and sometimes it is slightly 'flat' - as in 'lower'.


Human Nature

Often-times, people just clue in to one song/sound they recognize, a 'key song' if you will, and ignore the rest. But, if one pays more attention to all one hears, one quickly realizes there is a lot of variation even in the cheeseburger call. Yes, it is overwhelming. Auditory memory and organization is generally not as well-developed as visual.

It is human nature that the vowel sound "ee" is going to be higher pitched than other vowel sounds. Indeed, in this case the "cheese" syllable is higher pitched than the other two. And it is human nature to focus more on the vowel sounds - I think it is hard-wired into our brains.


Assigning Consonants
If we arbitrarily assigned consonants based on pitch: higher-pitched syllables would start with a consonant occuring further along in the alphabet -- just like the letter-notation of music where pitch "G" is higher than pitch "D".

- Tee is higher than fee
- Yer is higher than bur
- hoo is higher than boo

The two-toned chickadee song - where the first syllable is the highest pitch and second and third syllables are on the same pitch, could be described as:

Yer-tu-tu
Fee-bee-bee
See-fur-fur
Gee-dee-dee


The three-toned chickadee song where each pitch is lower than the previous, could be described as:

Yer-too-blue
Fee-dee-bee (feed debbie), or Fee-de-bur (Feed de bird)
See-fur-bie
Gee-de-bur

This convention doesn't give any indication of duration of the syllables / notes in the song, but only of relative pitch. But the two main purposes of using human words to describe bird songs are to help one remember them and to communicate what one heard to another human.

"Cheeseburger" just confuses me because it doesn't tell me whether it is the two-pitched, or the three-pitched song. "Yer-tu-tu" and "feed-de-bird" make way more sense to me.

(Someone else has probably already thought of this, hehe. No matter. I'll keep trying it out for myself. )





Sweet Little Driving-me-crazy

Usually it is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Some years it is the fellow below. And, also this year, his song so filled my brain I almost missed a Lincoln's Sparrow singing from under my twin firs.

 

14 March 2014

What the Swallow Saw


Wednesday, 12 March 2014
Five of us headed south to bird - three people from Fernie, one from Cranbrook and one from Kimberley.

It was a more typical early spring day, weatherwise, and our optomism was high that we would finally get some migrants, considering the late snow and bitter cold and dreariness of past weeks. 

Like many bird species, birders are drawn to water - so we headed to Tie Lake first - Incredulously incredulous to find most of it still frozen over.  But the drive there turned up:
- three calling BROWN CREEPER on either side of the road in one spot.  Although unsuccessful in actually seeing them, we imagined what it was like for them to keep in touch with each other using their wee little calls.
- three TUNDRA SWANS flying high and far off in the sunny wind, northward. (they must be just bypassing still frozen Wasa Lake as the following day they were not there but reported from Columbia Lake)
- a brief discussion about how to sing 'cheeseburger': the almost two tones of the Black-capped Chickadee or the three definite tones of the Mountain. 

At Tie Lake, we were lucky enough to come across a well-attended feeder, and while pinning down the actual number of EVENING GROSBEAKS, our awareness eventually registered the soft song of some VARIED THRUSH, blended in with the background noise of breeze and human activity. Some years, I've missed seeing them altogether, so it was beautiful to get good views this day.

Greg Ross photo

Our next highlight was at the big bridge/causeway over Koocanusa Lake, west of Kikomun Provincial Park.  One sleeping duck amongst a few Canada Geese, held our attention for half an hour, at least, and while waiting for it to show it's head or turn itself to better light, one lone VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW considerately flew over, only two meters above our heads, flashing its top-side - vibrant violet and green, and blue and white and ...  

This is what the Swallow saw: the icy scales of the dragon of winter clinging to the earth. 

Greg Ross photo

Scanning the grassy flats south of the bridge turned up the rusty flash of a lone KILLDEER hopping to a slightly different spot, but otherwise just standing there, staring at the ice maybe. 

And the sleeping duck? A lone male Blue-winged Teal, another species sometimes missed all season by some.


Continuing on our journey, the nest boxes at the main corner were already hotly contested by 6 WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, my first of the year. 

Further on, a Wildlife Official parked in their truck chose the following view for her office-of-the-day, and we chose it to startle 3 RUFFED GROUSE on the way in, and to scan a flock of CANADA GEESE etc. down below on the banks of the Elk River.

Greg Ross photo

Touring south to the border, including McDonald Loop Road - site of the infamous White-headed Woodpecker report of several years ago - and Edwards Lake, revealed mostly more frozen waters, another GOLDEN EAGLE, and a 26 cent data roaming charge from the auto-updates of my cell phone apps (which I can't get rescinded until my next billing period, and now I know to turn off data roaming)

Our last great gasp of birdiness was encountered on the Elko-Grasmere Road where we picked up, among other things, 2 MOURING DOVE perched together low in the hedgerow, and half a dozen WILD TURKEY skittishly crossing the road.

A good day of feathered-friend encounters made longer by the recent spring-forward time change. 

Canada Goose 12
Tundra Swan  3
American Wigeon  3
Mallard  5
Blue-winged Teal  1
Northern Pintail  3
Bufflehead  1
Common Goldeneye  2
Common Merganser  20
Ruffed Grouse  3
Wild Turkey  6
Golden Eagle  1
Bald Eagle  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Rough-legged Hawk  1
Killdeer 1
Mourning Dove  2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Northern Flicker 2
Pileated Woodpecker2
Steller's Jay 2
Black-billed Magpie 1
American Crow 18
Common Raven 12
Violet-green Swallow1
Black-capped Chickadee 9
Mountain Chickadee 8
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
Brown Creeper 3
American Dipper 1
Western Bluebird 6
American Robin 7
Varied Thrush 4
European Starling 38
Song Sparrow 3
Dark-eyed Junco 20
Red-winged Blackbird 11
House Finch 1
Evening Grosbeak 6



03 February 2014

Virginia Rails on Ice



A novice birder reported some kind of shorebird at Elizabeth Lake, Cranbrook on the Christmas Bird Count in late December; but we weren't able to pin down its identity until these amazing pics were taken just this past weekend - the first of February, 2014.

Very unusual to get Virginia Rails in winter but not unheard of in southern BC. Their nesting habitat at this lake is very close to much human activity.  These must be two very tough birds. Look at the ice on the bill.

Stewart Wilson photos






Greg Ross photos.










And the following day, only one was spotted and that one had even more ice on it. Stewart Wilson. 


12 January 2014

Kimberley CBC January 2014

Bohemian Waxwings - Greg Ross photo

Kimberley Christmas Bird Count results:



4 teams of 11 people counted our birds the other day from Wasa to Wycliffe. We got 39 species - which tied with the Cranbrook count the previous Saturday.  As usual, most bird activity was around the feeders generously filled, cleaned, and placed out of harms way by our bird-loving backyard birdwatchers in Kimberley, Marysville, Meadowbrook, Tata Creek, Wasa, and Wycliffe.
My team’s best birds were a Brown Creeper silhouetted on a tree trunk on 301 St and a Merlin that went screaming (flying quickly but quietly) along the forest edge at the south end of Swan subdivision – although it was the briefest of glimpses, the pointy wing tips, general grayish colour, size of the bird, habitat, flight speed and time of year could mean only this small falcon, closely related to the more widely-known Peregrine Falcon.  The Merlin lives year-round in our area and several pairs make their home all around the edges of town raising their chicks on insects, and small mammals and other birds – such is ‘nature’
.
Another highlight for our area is the continued presence of a family of Pygmy Nuthatch in Wycliffe.  The Pygmy Nuthatch is similar to the more common Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatch you may see visiting your feeder. If not there you may notice them going head-first down a tree trunk or stout branch and making a ‘yank, yank’ call.  The Pygmy is the smallest of ‘our’ nuthatches but unlike the other two, it prefers to forage for seeds and insects further out along branches or even in the clumps of needs at the ends.  Also, it is very quiet and its call even simpler being only small little peeps. And it rarely spends much time at the feeder, just zipping in to grab something, then back to a nearby large tree where it either eats the seed or stashes it for later – maybe an evening snack.
For good bird feeder cleaning instructions please visit the website: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/clean-feeders

Mallard 9
Common Goldeneye 42
Wild Turkey 4
Bald Eagle 12
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Merlin 1
Rock Pigeon 69
Eurasian Collared-Dove 17
Downy Woodpecker 16
Hairy Woodpecker 4
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker 24
Pileated Woodpecker 2
woodpecker sp. 1
Northern Shrike 2
Gray Jay 4
Steller's Jay 7
Blue Jay 6
Clark's Nutcracker 31
American Crow 24
Common Raven 78
Black-billed Magpie 14
Black-capped Chickadee 105
Mountain Chickadee 130
chickadee sp. 10
Red-breasted Nuthatch 10
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Pygmy Nuthatch 3
Brown Creeper 1
American Dipper 2
Townsend's Solitaire 1
American Robin 1
Bohemian Waxwing 569
American Tree Sparrow 10
Song Sparrow 11
Dark-eyed Junco 4
Snow Bunting 25
House Finch 37
Red Crossbill 2
Common Redpoll 25
Evening Grosbeak 7
House Sparrow 6
Total Nr of individual Birds 1329
Nr of species 39
Nr of spuhs 2

Cranbrook CBC Dec 2013 - Daryl Calder guest blogger

Pileated Woodpecker - Greg Ross photo

'Unusual' is a good word to describe the 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count as it occurred in Cranbrook on the Saturday following Christmas Day. We had an unusually large number of participants, both field and feeder counters. The weather was unusually good for counting, with clear skies, mild temperatures and light winds. However, the species count was below average partly due to the unusual absence of several common species. About 20 people divided themselves into 4 groups and got down to business of using their eyes and ears to detect birds in each of the 4 quadrants of our 14 km radius circle. Inexperienced birders welcomed the opportunity to partner with more knowledgeable naturalists, learning useful skills such as keeping quiet and focussing the binoculars quickly.

On some occasions only a bird of a particular species was detected, heightening the need to observe as many characteristics before the bird disappeared. We looked at the perching silhouette, beak size and shape, and wing and tail configuration even if we couldn't discern color or pattern of plumage. In flight, we noted the frequency of wingbeats, whether steady or intermittent, strong or weak, hovering, dipping or soaring. The type of habitat also provided strong clues; wetland or open forest, dense shrubbery  or open grassland and of course shopping cart ‘corrals’ at Superstore for the English House Sparrow. Occasionally, identification is a no-brainer in the case of a Ruffed Grouse walking in slow motion, an American Robin catching the sun or Bald Eagles overhead.

Feeder finches - Greg Ross photo



Absent from our list were the Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins. It's possible that the lack of heavy snow in the mid-elevations has not forced some birds into the lower elevations. Snow-encrusted trees make it more difficult for birds to access conifer cones and shelter. Several regular 'hot spots' continued to provide an interesting selection of birds. Slaterville has a good variety of habitats with open water in lower Hospital Creek, diverse tree species and shrubbery (Shrike), and numerous active feeders. Green Bay also has 'fish bearing' open water (Pied-billed Grebe) and proximity to several forest types as does the vicinity of the St Eugene Mission (American Dipper).

Urban areas have some good feeders and varied vegetation (Bohemian Waxwing). Of course, a visit to the primary treatment lagoons and nearby Joseph Creek ponds yielded Green-winged Teal, Goldeneye, Kingfisher and Song Sparrow. One highlight of the day occurred as we began counting at Elizabeth Lake: A Rough-legged Hawk circled and hovered conveniently off to the east. A hawk of the north, these large birds breed in northern tundra and taiga regions around the northern hemisphere. Both dark and light forms are common, with many birds intermediate between the extremes. In flight, one good field clue is the dark marks at the 'wrists' of the long, broad wings. The name 'Rough-legged' refers to the feathered legs. The Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle are the only other North American Hawks to have legs feathered all the way to the toes. These birds prefer open coniferous forests, tundra and generally barren country, breeding on cliffs or in trees. They winter also in grasslands and open cultivated areas of the East Kootenay where they eat small mammals and some birds. Rough-legged hawks will hunt from an elevated perch, or will hover frequently if in flight.There is no evidence of any change in North American breeding populations.

As can be seen from the list, the bird count is a useful exercise; we are fortunate to have a wide range of species frequenting our area. Thank you to all participants; we look forward to seeing you throughout the year.

The List:
Cranbrook CBC 114  December 28, 2013

Total Individuals 1325
Total Species Reported 39

Mallard 254
American Green-winged Teal 3
Common Goldeneye 43
Ruffed Grouse 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Bald Eagle 4
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Golden Eagle 1
Rock Pigeon 63
Northern Pygmy-Owl 1
Belted Kingfisher 3
Downy Woodpecker 12
Hairy Woodpecker 10
American Three-toed Woodpecker 1
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker 34
Pileated Woodpecker 9
Northern Shrike 1
Gray Jay 7
Steller's Jay 15
Blue Jay 20
Clark's Nutcracker 34
American Crow 66
Common Raven 226
Black-capped Chickadee 97
Mountain Chickadee 64
chickadee species 28
Red-breasted Nuthatch 43
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Dipper 6
Golden-crowned Kinglet 4
Townsend's Solitaire 15
American Robin 1
European Starling 30
Bohemian Waxwing 11
Song Sparrow 12
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Red-winged Blackbird 8
House Finch 158
Evening Grosbeak 12
House Sparrow 2

Submitted by Daryl Calder on behalf of Rocky Mountain Naturalists

06 January 2014

Common Chickadee Trends - Kimberley Christmas Bird Count


Does this chart show Mountain Chickadees are increasing and Black-capped Chickadees are decreasing?

Or does it show observers in recent years have been more likely to identify chickadees to species level rather than just "unidentified chickadee" with a statistical bias to Mountains?




or some combination of the above ... Or something else?