Sunday, January 12, 2014

Birding...Weather and Time Dependent?

Yes and no is my answer, here's my story. We're in the midst of a several days of clouds, precipitation mix; at times this makes it difficult to bird and photograph. After spending most of the day inside, I felt a need to go birding noting the immediate conditions as ugly, but not impossible for wildlife watching. As a rule not checking the weather beforehand is not smart, as unbeknownst to me, this high wind warning was coming online (jpeg below) from Weather Underground.

 Oblivious, I loaded the car with gear, a low cloud deck overhead and a smattering of rain worries :-). My main plan was simple, spend 1-2 hours outside looking at birds (mostly perched raptor and waterfowl). By outside, I mean I could bird from my car given periodic rain squalls. Arrived at Lee Metcalf NWR at 1:24 pm and parked next to Pond 6 on Wildfowl Lane. Rolled window down (note: use your vehicle as a "blind" even in good weather) and scoped out the waterfowl present. Immediately noted Gadwall (Anas strepera), a target species. Quickly grabbed my camera rig (Canon 70D with 70-300 zoom). Started capturing images from the dry, cozy interior of my Subaru. 
Gadwall pair

Birding is kind of like playing (not the game) with dominoe tiles, once you find the flock you systematically look at each individual bird checking off the identification just as if you tip over the first dominoe tile set-up in a line and they all fall in an order. Outside the usual species my next dominoe was a Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) followed by a female Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica). Yahoo! three year species in the space of FOUR minutes (hey dominoes fall quickly :-). 
Northern Shoveler (right)

Barrow's Goldeneye

Good thing too because the wind/rain/snow went postal at about 1:45 pm. Headed home as visibility declined rapidly and birds took refuge. The video below captures the conditions at home. 

In the final analysis my birding was a success. Yes, weather and time impact birding, but only in so far as, (not strictly negative or positive) your "plan" unfolded. A 2007 published book by Chip and Dan Heath titled Made to Stick makes an interesting point of "plans/planning", especially by the military. The military has figured out that "plans are useful, in the sense that...the planning process forces people to think through the right issues." The authors boil this down: " succeed, the first step is this: be simple...find the core of the idea."  I followed the authors advice and core-planned 1 to 2 hours "looking at birds". It turned out great...this time. Find something great...with a plan, of course!!! 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Outside Xmas Been Good or Bad Lists…Wildlife Checklists for New Year

Like you, I've been out and about looking for wildlife (mostly birds) to add to my lists (annual and life) for the new year. So far, it has been slow going compared to last year. Thirteen species of birds are on my checklist year-to-date. Caveat being short time invested (about 4 hours) and habitat visited. Two habitats have been concentrated on at this point, open country and Rocky Mountain Forest a) Subalpine Mesic Spruce-Fir and b) Dry-Mesic Montane Mixed. Targets for a: buteos, horned larks, snow buntings and longspurs and b: winter finches and corvids. Have done well with buteos (photo below).
Rough-legged Hawk
The forest has been really quiet...winter finches are mostly absent (CBC's bear this out). For good reason, the cone crop is pretty much non-existent. I took a field trip to Lolo Pass and found few trees (photo below, likely Subalpine Fir) with cones. The good news is the snowpack (44 inches) is 84% of normal.
Lolo Pass-Conifers and Snowpack
I record my sightings, observations in a variety of ways, hard copy and digital. I've downloaded the AOU checklist (American Ornithologists Union) and imported it into Google Sheets for annual and life list tracking. By being cloud-based, I can reach my list using any computer, tablet. Similarly, have downloaded and adapted checklists (mostly national) for dragonflies (Odonates really...provided by the Slater Museum-University of Puget Sound), butterflies (source: North American Butterfly Association), and wildflowers (Montana has an excellent natural heritage web site for plants...your State probably has extensive resources also).
The way I'm doing this is a bit dated; there is a plethora of digital resources (apps) coming online. Included are checklists (E-Bird) integrated with identification guides and natural history information (Audubon Bird Guide)...all in a mobile platform. App checklist competition comes from a published work by Whit Bronaugh titled Wildlife of North America-A Naturalists Lifelist.
Yes, tracking wildlife-watching efforts is important, think S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based) objectives for learning about wildlife. Just don't forget wildlife-watching (drilled down from generic just "being outside" category) is also a path for daily happiness (being in the moment); here's a visual checklist "how-to-be-happy" from Pinfographics.
Leave me a comment with a link to your recent observation checklist :-)