Friday, January 31, 2014

Emma's Big Bird Adventure, Week 1

Hello there! Nature Net Intern Emma here. If you're like me, you may be developing a case of cabin fever, what with the bitterly cold temperatures we've been experiencing lately. I love to be outside, observing wildlife and enjoying the weather, but sometimes the cold temperatures make it difficult, and it definitely makes it more challenging for the wildlife living in the snow. My own personal respite has been bird watching. An amazing hobby that I took up about a year and a half ago, bird watching is simple, relaxing, often inexpensive (though there are some really nice binoculars out there!), and satisfying. It is a great way to get outside, if only briefly, and see incredible creatures who can survive our winters. Or, if it's just too cold, you can watch birds from your window, and you can even attract an amazing variety with a homemade bird feeder. Birdwatching, though, can be much more satisfying when you know a few species by name and can recognize who frequents your feeder--this series of blog posts will focus mainly on identification, but I will try to include some behavioral and ecological information, as well. Let's get started!

I learned approximately 70 Wisconsin birds in a class on the UW campus last fall and decided I needed to know more, so this semester I am taking Ornithology with Professor Mark Berres. The lab for the class involves learning to identify 200+ Wisconsin birds, and I thought it would be fun to start a series of blog entries to document and share my pedagogical journey. I plan to post each week about the birds I am seeing and whichever family of species I am required to learn at the time. If you love birds and are an experienced birder, I hope this will be interesting and fun, watching a relatively new birder explore all that Southern Wisconsin has to offer. If you are new to the subject, I hope I can share any tips and tricks I acquire and pass on my love for these amazing creatures.

This week was the first week of classes, or "Welcome Week," as it is known around campus. In my lab on Wednesday morning, we received a list of twenty-three birds to learn for next week. We have to identify each one by sight and sound. The birds we will get to know this week are all common winter birds of Southern Wisconsin, so when we go birding we will be able to recognize what we see and hear. In case you're interested in which birds are still flitting around your back yard, here's a list of this week's study subjects and links to their "All About Birds" pages, where you can find out more about them and listen to their songs and calls.

American Coot
Ring-Billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch 
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

I'm actually quite familiar with all of these birds by sight, but I can only recognize some of their calls, so learning the rest will be a challenge. For beginners and experts alike, though, field guides are extremely helpful in learning to recognize birds by sight. The public library in Madison has quite a few bird field guides on hand, or you can find them in local bookstores and online. My first guide was Birds of Wisconsin by Stan Tekiela. This guide is fantastic for beginners because it organizes birds by color, which is a major determining factor for beginners when identifying a species. My current guide, though, is Birds of Eastern North America by David Allen Sibley. Filled with over 600 species and amazing illustrations, this book is one of my favorites. If you're looking for a few more ecological facts about these birds, you can learn about Black-capped Chickadees and other common birds with distinctive calls or some birding tips for parents in these past issues of Nature Net News.

Cedar Waxwing
Finding a favorite bird made birding all the more exciting to me. I never tire of looking for my dearest feathered friend, and the more I go birding, the more birds I am intrigued by. The Cedar Waxwing is my very favorite bird because it was the first bird with which I really fell in love. These are called "waxwings" because the tips of their wings look as though they have been dipped in bright red wax. Its sleek body and mixture of bold and muted colors were so striking to me when I first flipped past it in my field guide, and the first time I ever spotted one I was ecstatic. Do you have an amazing bird story or a favorite bird? Comment below and share your stories with me!

Happy Birding!
Nature Net Intern