A Holiday Greeting


Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, Townsend's Warblers are typically the brightest and most patterned songbird we see during the winter months, hence they are a favorite among local birders. This adult female was photographed at Tillamook, Oregon on 18 December 2010. Photo by Dave Irons

The holiday season is a special time of year for BirdFellow. Though behind the scenes activities started much earlier, our first journal post appeared on 19 December 2008. Over the past two years we've added another 129 articles to this journal, created an online field guide, and built field reporting and listing tools that we hope will reshape the way you share your bird sightings. Reaching the point where we are now has taken longer than we originally anticipated, but a little extra trial and error has allowed us to make some refinements (nearing completion) that we think our users will appreciate.

This two-year journey has allowed us to make many new friends and resulted in relationships that we hardly anticipated. During 2010 we reviewed and and promoted the work of independent film makers Scott Crocker (Ghost Bird) and Michael Male and Judy Fieth (Watching Sparrows). We enjoyed meeting Scott when his thought-provoking film was shown in Portland, Oregon this Fall. We were pleased to learn from Michael and Judy that our publication of Elizabeth J. Rosenthal's review of Watching Sparrows produced a modest spike in sales of their various DVDs. I bought a couple DVDs for myself and found them to be thoroughly enjoyable. Once again we lent our support to the Delmarva Ornithological Society's annual bird-a-thon. This organization continues to do great work in an effort to preserve habitat for shorebirds and horseshoe crabs on Delaware Bay.


Here is a screen grab showing an example of a BirdFellow photo gallery. Ultimately, each species account will be accompanied by a gallery of images depicting the broad variety of plumages displayed by that species. Rolling your cursor over the featured image in the right hand window, makes the photo's caption appear across the bottom of the image. 

We've continued collecting photos for our online field guide from a small army of contributing photographers. We are now up to about 15,000 images, which we continue to sort. Many, many hours have been devoted to aging, sexing, and keywording them as we select those that appear in the BirdFellow galleries associated with each species account. There are numerous species for which we have either no photos or a limited selection, thus we welcome submissions from anyone who thinks that they can fill one of the holes in our collection. Further, we have created a field guide that allows contributions of knowledge from the community. By offering a "field note" at the bottom a species account, you add value and richness to our online guide.

In late November we published a discussion about eBird and the resulting response from you was extremely lively. The eBird project leaders monitored the exchange of ideas and after reading through your comments, came away with an improved understanding of the public perception of eBird. We were proud to offer a forum where this respectful discussion could occur and welcomed the multiple public and private responses from eBird project leader Brian Sullivan. 


This photo, taken looking south from the town of Cape May towards Cape May Point serves to remind me of a wonderful trip there in October 2010 and inspires me to plan similar adventures in 2011. Photo by Dave Irons

In the coming year we at BirdFellow.com expect to finally launch several social features that we are sure you will enjoy and use. May 2011 be a year when you see more birds, enjoy new and fantastic landscapes where those birds reside, and most importantly introduce a child, a friend, or perhaps someone you've yet to meet to magic of birding. 

No Easy Life: Abused Field Guides


This Sibley Guide, owned by Erik Bruhnke, was the inspiration for this photo essay.

Simply put, the one that gets used gets abused. Being the favored field guide of an active birder is no day at the beach. Well, it could be a day at the beach, but that day might include being splashed with saltwater or having sand grating between your pages. You may also be dropped in the mud at your owner's favorite shorebird hotspot, or be left to roast in the sun for hours on the dashboard of the car while he/she does a seawatch. Bird guides live a rough and tumble life, they don't get the preferential treatment enjoyed by those sissy library volumes that spend most of their days comfortably shelved in a dry, shaded, temperature controlled environment.

In this photo essay we will share a collection of images of road weary popular field guides. After viewing these images, one is left wonder if the authors or publishing houses that produced these books ever imagined that they might look like this someday? Apparently, birders were not listening when their mothers and fathers, or an elementary school librarian, told them to "be careful" with books. Didn't they tell us not to write in books? I distinctly remember being told that food and drink were not to be taken into a library as they might get spilled and damage the books. I think that every one of the field guides that I regularly use is coffee-stained, as are many featured here.

I was inspired to put together this photo essay after meeting and birding with Wisconsin native Erik Bruhnke during the summer of 2010. It should be noted here that Erik is still a young man in his mid-twenties and he's only been birding for a a decade or so, but when it comes to field guide abuse, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Erik's copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds was, in a word, trashed. When I first laid eyes on Erik's Sibley, I was awestruck. It was sort of held together with duct tape and the cover was excessively worn with abraded  corners. I still can't imagine how the back cover came by its appearance, as it was stained with an impressive array of unrecognizable residue. Food? Beverages? Who knows? The condition of Erik's Sibley got me to thinking...just how badly do we treat our field guides?  I posted a request for photos of abused field guides to a couple of birding listservs that I subscribe to and I was quickly inundated with images of tattered, torn, taped, stained and scribbled in bird books.

Among those who sent in pictures, there seems to have been little effort invested in keeping their field guides from getting wet, sun-bleached, or soiled. Coffee stains appeared to be the leading cause of discoloration. Despite the apparent lack of concern about keeping books clean, several of the folks who contributed images had gone to great lengths in order to keep their favored books in one piece. Creative binding and tape jobs abounded.


Michael Marsh went with the proactive approach, opting to install a plastic ring binding in his Sibley before duct tape became necessary. Photo by Michael Marsh


Mike Patterson of Astoria, Oregon used a single metal ring to preempt the loss of pages from his Golden Guide. Apparently he wasn't prepared to cough up the money for a new copy (note the price on the top right corner of the cover). What happened to the days of $4 field guides? Photo by Mike Patterson.


Surely a hit with tape salesman, Golden Guides were notorious for their anti-durability binding and propensity for losing groups of pages out of the middle of the book (especially the soft cover versions). Matthew Schneider of Silverton, Oregon did a nice job on this book. Note how the transparent tape used to keep the owl page in place is barely visible. Photo by Matthew Schneider


Frank Isaacs of Philomath, Oregon went with the heavy-duty strapping tape on the exterior of his Golden Guide in an effort to keep it intact. From the looks of the cover, we suspect that this book has spent some days being kicked around on the floor of a work vehicle. Frank, a Senior Faculty Research Assistant at Oregon State University, spent many years traveling around Oregon monitoring Bald Eagle nests. Photo by Frank Isaacs


Those acquainted with Alan Contreras know him to be a collector/trader of sorts when it comes to bird books. He often buys and resells copies of vintage volumes that he finds  at book stores and other sales. He is known to use terms like "pristine" and "original dust cover" when describing his offerings. Apparently his appreciation for mint condition bird books came later in life. Pictured here is Alan's original Peterson Field Guide, which he used (and abused) when he started birding in the late 1960's. Photo by Alan Contreras


When you look up "dog-eared" in the dictionary, a photo of Paul Buescher's National Geographic Guide should appear. You know a book is well used when the place markers appear to be coffee-stained. Photo by Paul Buescher


This Peterson Guide, owned by David Heath of Portland, Oregon, seems to be structurally sound, but the ink on the cover has taken a beating. Photo by David Heath


I'd swear the cover of my National Geographic Guide is more colorful than this one. The Painted Bunting in the lower right corner looks like it should be named the "Pastel Bunting." This volume apparently spent a few too many days on the dashboard of Tom and Allison Mickel's Honda Accord. They must have made many trips away from their home state of Oregon for it to become this sun-bleached. However, from the look of the page edges, it wasn't all sunny days for this edition. Photo by Tom Mickel


Sylvia Maulding of Springfield, Oregon apparently follows the advice of prolific bird book author Steve N.G. Howell, who has been known to encourage his audiences to "write lots of notes in their field guides." The tabs separating birds by family group are a nice touch, but probably still qualify as "defacing."Photo by Sylvia Maulding

After seeing and reading about the exterior of Erik Bruhnke's field guide, some of you may be curious about what the inside looks like, so for our final offering we couldn't resist the image below. I am at a loss to explain how the inside pages of a book can get this filthy. I know that Erik does a lot of his own maintenance work on his van, so maybe he decided to bone up on blackbirds after changing his oil. The duct tape looks like it has been there for 20 years, which  is a marvel since the first edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds was published a mere decade ago.


WOW!  Photo by Erik Bruhnke

A Review: "Watching Sparrows," a DVD by Michael Male and Judy Fieth


Sage Sparrow (image courtesy of www.birdfilms.com)

Whether you can’t go birding as much as you would like, or don’t have the funds or time to travel much, or you just want a relaxing way to bone up on the “gizz” of North American sparrows before a day in the field, a new DVD out now will meet all of your North American sparrow needs. It is a newly upgraded film by Michael Male and Judy Fieth, called Watching Sparrows, the culmination of stalking the tiny passerines over tundra, desert, mountain, grassland, and stream during three action-packed breeding seasons (action-packed for the filmmakers, that is, and possibly for the birds, too).

Since 1980, Male and Fieth have dedicated their lives to filming birds and other aspects of the natural world. They have made movies for U.S. public television, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Geographic, while contributing to a number of BBC/David Attenborough nature series on birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. In filming A Celebration of Birds with Roger Tory Peterson in 1990 for public television, they spent weeks traveling up the east coast with the legendary inventor of field guides and even saved the life of the 82-year-old in the aftermath of a “rogue wave” off the coast of Maine.

One senses that Male and Fieth’s side projects have been the most rewarding for them of all the achievements listed on their resumes. Watching Sparrows is one such side project, first released in 2002 and re-mastered to great effect in 2010. The updated release offers most of the same “extras” as the original. For example, in “Fun with Songs,” select sparrows’ typical songs are slowed to 50% and then 20% of their actual speed for a fascinating examination of the intricacies of even the simplest sparrow songs. The mini-documentary “The Sharp-Tailed Challenge” depicts Male and Fieth’s pursuit of the Nelson’s and Saltmarsh sparrows. New extras are two episodes of the filmmakers’ Internet series, Little Nature Show. These segments are “Fox Fun,” which briefly chronicles their search for various sub-species of the Fox Sparrow, and “From the Moon to Montana,” which focuses on Male and Fieth’s travails in editing the original Watching Sparrows DVD.  In both of these, we meet our filmmaker-hosts, mild-mannered but earnest individuals with soothing voices that take all the fear out of distinguishing bird species of such largely similar physical attributes.


Grasshopper Sparrow (image courtesy of www.birdfilms.com)

In the main body of the DVD, Male and Fieth take the viewer through the North American sparrow species in taxonomic order, genus by genus. They tell us about the birds’ field marks. They show us, through easily understood map graphics, the sparrows’ winter, migratory, and breeding ranges, and if and where they are resident.  We learn about environmental threats to the birds, where they are plentiful and where they are not, and, if few members of a species are found within the continental U.S., we are advised of the limited American stretch where they live.  

The narrators describe the birds’ behavior as we observe close-ups of a California Towhee’s “double scratch” foraging method, a Canyon Towhee carrying from the nest the fecal sacs excreted by nestlings, the distinctive differences among the four Fox Sparrow sub-species, and the spectacular skylarking song-flights of the McCown’s Longspur. We hear each bird’s song, no matter how unimpressive (Henslow’s) or intricate (Song Sparrow).  Each species, whether the showy Five-Striped or the modestly adorned Clay-Colored, gets a few minutes of fame, its plumage ruffling in a breeze, or spreading or contracting as it shifts position, singing against a background of pale-blue sky or earth-toned scrubby habitat.

The 2010 footage in the main body of the DVD does not differ from that found in the 2002 release, but the re-mastering by Male and Fieth is exquisite. The grainy quality of the original is obvious when compared to the same scenes now; in the 2010 version, all birds and natural landscapes appear squeaky-clean, with down and contour feathers alike beautifully clear and ready for the enthusiast to admire on a high-definition television.

Another 2010 DVD by Male and Fieth, Watching Warblers West, includes most of the same features as the re-mastered Watching Sparrows, including sparkling visuals, but with a different cast of characters.  Find out how to get these and other DVDs by Michael Male and Judy Fieth by going to http://www.birdfilms.com/index.html.