Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fun with Scientific Names

Lately, I've been looking at the name meanings of birds. Scientific names always interest me, for some reason. Sometimes the names fit perfectly, others, not so much.

Let's start with some really easy ones.

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera)

For starters, Vermivora is easy to guess. When you hear 'vermi', you might thing of vermin (in this case, caterpillars and insects). 'Vora' means eat, as in carnivore, insectivore, and so on. So the Blue-winged and its close relative the handsome Golden-winged are both vermin-eaters. Nice to know!

The species name is cyanoptera. 'Cyano' is cyan, blue, cerulean, and so one. 'Ptera' means wing (think of pterodactyl, which means 'wing finger'). So it's blue-winged vermin-eater. Not bad! (The Golden-winged's name is similar- chrysoptera. Chryso is gold in Greek.)

Now, here's the next word: catharsis.

According to Google, this is the definition: "the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions; purgation"

This word is pretty interesting. I found it in two names!

If you're familiar with thrushes and eBird checklists, you'll notice 'Catharus'. Catharus is a genus of thrushes, including Swainson's, Hermit, Gray-cheeked, and Veery. All of these have beautifully haunting songs.

Hermit Thrush
I'd assume they went all poetic and decided that these songs were the birds purging themselves of their strong emotions. It's nice, though. At least they aren't stuck in a genus like Turdus

The second catharsis-related one is about a very common bird with a cool story- the Turkey Vulture

Releasing a soul into the afterlife with a tremendous bellow!
The turkey vulture's name is Cathartes aura. As Wikipedia states, Cathates means 'purifier'. Aura means 'gold'. I don't have the exact source on this, but I've heard that vultures were considered the passage between the earth and sky in some Indian cultures, and so if the vultures ate your body, they would help your soul into heaven. Thus, 'golden purifier' (the golden comes from 'golden wind', I think that's what they called the vultures. But then again, I can't remember where I picked that one up.)

Onto some even more familiar birds!

I'll focus on to wrens- the House and the Winter Wren. Both are in the same genus, Troglodytes. This means 'hermit' or 'cave dweller', which describes the rather skulky , well-camouflaged wrens well. The House Wren's species name is aedon. Looking it up, it seems to refer to some Greek mythology. A lady named Aedon was turned into a nightingale, which I assume the House Wren reminds the Old World scientists of in either looks or song.

The Winter Wren isn't as interesting. Its species name is hiemalis. It means 'winter'. So we have ourselves a little winter hermit!

I hope this was interesting to somebody and I didn't spend half an hour typing it all up. I might have a part 2 since there's a lot of scientific names out there, we'll have to see! In the meantime, boast to your friends you just saw your first-of-season Winter Hermit and that you got amazing looks of the Blue-winged Vermin-eater!

Monday, October 20, 2014

More Neighborhood Birding

I really must be boring my nonexistent readers with talk of my neighborhood. After all, I'm the only one who really birds the place. But I'm so proud of it, too! I'm also starting to shamelessly copy 10,000 Birds on bolding the species names- every bird is important!

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

After school I decided to go for a walk. Little did I know it would pay off with some good birds!

Normally I start at the soccer fields, which are across the street from the trails. I like to pick up Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, and maybe a few sparrows from the adjacent field. The shrieks of a Blue Jay made me look up and gasp! A Merlin flew over! I snapped a lot of pictures (but the SD card will not cooperate, so you'll have to wait) which confirmed that this was not a Cooper's or Sharpie- those wings are pointed alright. Overly pointed. The bird didn't stop and continued flying southward. What luck!

Next I checked out the field; nothing too special other than a female American Redstart. I walked into the greenway and was greeted by a bright Magnolia Warbler in a privet bush. More redstarts flitted and fanned but apparently this wasn't all. A Red-tailed Hawk zoomed over my head, screaming. Woodpeckers abounded with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Noisy, too! It had rained earlier so there was many puddles and mud.

I finally hit something interesting- two handsome male warblers, a Black-throated Blue and a late Hooded Warbler. Both gave me amazing looks, with the Hooded landing within feet of me! Hoodeds are my favorite warblers, hands down. They're stunning and beautiful, with a beautiful song and interesting habits. It's funny, I've never seen a female Hooded before, only males. Maybe this is why?

The Black-throated Blue gave me some of the best pictures I've ever gotten on the species, too.

Later on I found First-of-Season Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Near the end I heard some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and found another lifer- a male Black-throated Green Warbler! He was up in an oak.
Palm Warbler

Black-throated Green

I have more too talk about but I'm lazy. Lucky for you guys!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Kentucky Warbler!

Here's a game of Find the Bird!
You may or may not be wondering why there's a blurry picture of leaves here. This is a Kentucky Warbler, a life bird for me found in my own neighborhood! If you look close enough you can see the yellow body and black face mask distinctive of a Kentucky. Now, many birders say they love all the warblers, and I do, but Kentuckies are like top five for me (other than Maggies, Hoodies, Swainson's, and Golden-winged). This is an awesome bird. Just had to share it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Common Kestrels are One of the Coolest Birds, Ever

So maybe you're curious as to why my little avatar picture is a starting-to-stoop kestrel. Well, for one thing it was a female Common Kestrel dropping in close on her hunt for food. I photographed her and a few others of the beautiful Italian isle Isloa dell'Elba. Don't believe me?

On top of Elba
The castle next to the mountain of the kestrels
Anyways, this was a stunning island. Richer with birds anywhere else I've found in Italy- not that I visited very many. Spotted Flycatchers and mysterious warblers abound.
One of the many Spotted Flycatchers I saw on Elba, with a little feather out of place
Anyways, this is about kestrels, not boring flycatchers. So as you may know, Elba is super scenic. Scenic to the power of scenic. We (my uncle, brother, and I- me being the only birder present) pulled over on top of some mountain to get a picture. Anyways, across the road is a hill, with an electric thingy on the top. It's devoid of any trees, just some scrub and grass. But something quickly catches my attention- birds. And they're hovering into the wind!
Here's one, being kestrel-y

The wind was very strong up there, so strong that about eight or nine of these little guys hovered in the wind, perfectly still. The pictures don't do it justice. These birds were perfectly still, only a few feathers twitching. I'll never forget how amazing they were.

Taken a few seconds after the one below; she starts to dive a bit.
My profile pic. Notice the alulas and tail!
I took a crap ton of pictures but not many turned out good; mainly out-of-focus. It's a bit tricky since you have nothing else to go by; they're just hovering in the air.
Really awesome birds.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Weekend Birding

This weekend I had the pleasure of birding the same spot both Saturday and Sunday morning! The location was Six-mile Creek Greenway, a paved greenway weaving through lowland forest.

Saturday, October 4th

This trip was a Carolina Young Birder's Walk, so of course I had to go. Matt, Ginger, a beginner birder who I met before at other walks, Michael, a younger birder, and his mother and I started walking around 9, later to be joined by four more birders later on. It was rather quiet in the beginning, with Magnolia Warblers and redstarts in the turning trees. Four Wood Ducks flew over, not an unusual sight there, but for the beginning it was quiet.

Then we hit a flock.

It started with me pointing out a small yellow bird. I saw it jumping around in the bare branches of a tree, the first confusing bird of the day. Matt said Philadelphia cautiously, with good reason. I managed to get some shots of the bird, which confirmed its ID. It was a Philadelphia Vireo! It was a bright adult, with a pretty bright yellow throat, heavier bill, and white lores, along with an eye stripe. It was a lifer for both of us.

A few feet up the trail the rest of the flock revealed themselves. More Magnolias, which we saw many of, along with redstarts, and Black-and-White Warbler, and Matt found a Chestnut-sided I didn't get to see. That was about it in terms of the warbler flock.

Farther down the trail we pointed out plants such as cucumber tree, jewelweed, smartweed (my guide was wrong, calling it pink knotweed. Matt got it right) cardinal flower, and some invasive species such as the privet that dominated much of the trailside.

Later we were delighted with views of a beautiful male Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-throated Vireos, and, again, Maggies! 

The day was decent, and the younger kids left, leaving Ginger, Matt, and I. We found a Canada Warbler however, the second highlight of the walk, and another lifer! I only got to see the rump/back and didn't see the face too well, but I heard it call and I'll take that. Overall, a good day!

Sunday, October 5th

Today I started out on another walk, a Beginner's Bird Walk (I'm not a beginner, but still) at the same Six-mile! A cold front had pushed through, dropping the temps overnight to the low 30's and causing the first frost of the season. I worked today, so we had to leave a bit early, but it was still much better!

We started out with flickers and Red-bellieds and a handsome Black-throated Blue Warbler, a male. He was still very pretty and blue!

We saw many more warblers, with my lifer Bay-breasted high in a sycamore. We saw more Bay-breasteds, Cape Mays, Black-and-whites, Maggies, redstarts, Chestnut-sideds, Blackburnians (very pretty!), swifts and empids! I really think the empids were Leasts, but didn't put that on the checklist in fear of 'oh no, those were ___,'. Oh well, eBird will survive.

I had to leave early for work- I'm sure no one knows where I work at, so here it is! I work at the Wild Birds Unlimited in Charlotte. Anyways, at work, one of my coworkers (and arguably the nicest person there) Ailsa reported a dead bird found in front of the store one morning. She had pictures of it- it was a Swainson's Thrush. I asked if the Walmart across the parking lot kept their lights on at night, and they did. I believe this migrant was stalled by the cold front, and, flying low, got disoriented by the bright glare of the parking lot lights. Tired, it smacked into the glass windows of our store. We don't have problems with window collisions normally- during the day we have decals and such and a feeder less than three feet from the windows. Poor little guy, but I'd assume it was one of thousand of night migrants who are killed by building strikes. Mecklenburg Audubon does Lights Out Charlotte and helps them! I wish I could volunteer for them.

Well, happy birding and may a rarity blow of course to you!