Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

Common Redpolls started visiting my feeders earlier this week — for the first time in two years! I’ve been looking closely at the birds to see if any of them are Hoary Redpolls, but I haven’t seen any yet.

A Common Redpoll,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

My Interview with Birds and Words

While I was in Europe, I received an email from Julia Zarankin asking if she could interview me for her blog, Birds and Words which is part of the Coyot.es Network. Here’s Julia’s blog post with my interview if you’d like to read it.

I had lots of fun working on the answers for Julia’s questions. Thank you for the opportunity, Julia, and for all of your very kind and generous words!

A Great Crested Grebe in France,

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Review: The Collins Bird Guide App

Preparing last fall for my family’s trip to Europe last month, I researched field guides, websites, and apps that might be helpful for birding in France and Germany. I planned to take my iPad and iPod, but not my laptop.

I knew I was going to take my paperback copy of Birds of Europe (second edition) published by Princeton University Press, but a few days before we left I came across The Collins Bird Guide app which I though might be useful to use with my iPad. 

Thanks to Touchpress, publisher of the Collins Bird Guide app, I was able to get a review copy downloaded onto my iPad before our departure. I spent the flight to France learning the features of the app, and because I enjoyed it so much and found it so helpful for my trip, I thought I’d share my opinions and a little about how to use the app in this post.

The Collins Bird Guide app is based on the book, The Collins Bird Guide by Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney, and Dan Zetterström, which is considered the standard European field guide.

The app is very easy to navigate through its three-tier structure which includes over 700 species and more than 3,500 excellent illustrations. The first tier, which is the home page, shows a list of all the families or species groupings included in the app — you can organize the list taxonomically or alphabetically with the app’s settings. The home page also has an introduction at the top of the screen on how to use the app with references to the maps, plumages, terminology, and more. At any point, you can move between the tiers by tapping on the “house” or “bird” icons at the bottom of the screen. Both the family groupings and the species accounts are on a continuous scroll, so it’s easy to keep scrolling through the app.

Here is the home page with all the family groupings:

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Click on a family group — this takes you to the second tier of the app. A list will open with all the species in that family which you can scroll through. Tapping on the family name above the illustrations exposes information about that family. For woodpeckers, the entry reads:

All but the aberrant Wryneck specialists in climbing and excavating nest holes in vertical tree trunks. Anatomical adaptations include strong feet and mobile toes (species with four toes have two directed backwards) and sharp claws, stiff tail-feathers which serve as support on vertical surfaces, also powerful awl- or chisel-shaped bill and “shock-absorbant” brain-case. Food includes wood-boring insects; have a greatly elongated tongue base for scouring and emptying deep insect burrows. Most species use drumming as a “song” (both sexes drum). Only the Wryneck is a long-distance migrant, others largely residents.

Here is the woodpecker family group:

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From the family page, touch a specific species and it will open to the third-tier — the species account. The species account includes multiple illustrations of the bird in different plumages, general information on the bird, range maps, the species conservation status, and audio recordings.

Here is the European Green Woodpecker species account:

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The illustrations are very good and the text is quite informative — the developers have taken all the text and illustrations from the body of the book and converted them to a digital format. To get the illustrations in full-screen, tap once. If you like, tap the screen again to remove the text and symbols. You can also pinch-to-zoom to enlarge the illustrations to see close-up details.

One of my favourite app features is the comparison function. This was useful with so many new-to-me species to identify. There are two ways to compare species. The first is accessible on the right hand side above the species text. For example, below you can see the comparisons for Eurasian Nuthatch include Algerian Nuthatch, (Western) Rock Nuthatch, and Eastern Rock Nuthatch.

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Here is where the comparison buttons are located (in red):

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The other comparison button is accessible at the bottom left of the app’s screen. Tapping on this allows you to create a customized side-by-side comparison of any species. You can do side-by-side comparisons of up to 12 species, but I found personally that two species is the best way to compare as the illustrations are still fairly large and the text is easy to read.

A majority of species in the guide come with multiple audio recordings. Songbirds have songs and calls included, while less vocal species — such as waterfowl, shorebirds, and game birds — usually are accompanied by a single recording.

There’s a search function that allows you to try to identify a species by selecting from a series of attributes including location and season, habitat, shape, size, plumage colour, family, bill colour, and more. The app then provides a list of species that fit that criteria.

Here I’m searching for species that frequent the highlighted map area:

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The app includes the option to keep a life list and to create any others lists. The lists I kept/created were my Life List, Year List, France List, and Germany List.

Tapping on the checkmark next to the species text will add that bird to your Life List (and there’s also an option to share your Lifer on social media). Then, tapping on the list icon next to the checkmark lets you add that species to any other lists you’ve created, or add a new list.  To view your lists, go to the search bar where they’ll appear under “My Lists”. The lists are arranged in the three tiers, just like the rest of the app.

One suggestion I have for any future app updates is for the app to total the number of species on each list and to let users add a date for when they see a particular bird.

This is the family groups page from my Germany List. I saw a species in each of the families that’s highlighted:

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Play around with the app and you’ll quickly get the hang of the layout and flow. The Collins Bird Guide app is excellent with an easy-to-use interface and intuitive design — of the seven bird identification apps I’ve tried (The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America, Audubon Birds Pro, and Peterson Birds, to name a few), this one is easily the best, and it would be wonderful if there were a comparable app for North American Birds. I highly recommend this app to any birders living in or travelling to Europe — it’s terrific!

The app is compatible with the iPhone and iPad; and I’ve read that the developers are working on a version for Android. The app is $17.99 (US), $20.99 (CAN), or £13.49 on iTunes

Thank you very much to Touchpress for providing me with a review copy.

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

When we stopped in Angers, France, we had time to tour the castle where I found lots of Common Wood Pigeons in the courtyard.

A Common Wood Pigeon in Angers,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Alberta’s First Spring Goose Hunt

In January, the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) announced its first spring Snow Goose and Ross’s Goose hunt. The provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have had spring goose hunts since 1999.

The current Snow Goose population in Canada is about one million birds, which is about twice the number scientists believe the Arctic nesting grounds can support.

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The new hunt will attempt to deal with overpopulation that could devastate the arctic breeding grounds. The degradation of the breeding grounds would affect all wildlife, not just geese, that depend on that habitat. Environment Canada’s 2013 Bird Conservation Strategy for Bird Conservation Region 7 Prairie and Northern Region: Taiga Shield and Hudson Plains notes,

Ecosystems within BCR 7-PNR, particularly in the coastal regions, but more recently in the tundra areas of the Hudson Plains, are under high pressure from a large overabundance of Lesser Snow Geese and rapidly growing populations of Ross’s Geese. A special publication from the Arctic Goose Joint Venture (Leafloor et al. 2012) is a current and expansive review of the situation and conservation options for dealing with this issue. Lesser Snow Goose populations have increased at a remarkable rate, up to 7% per year from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, due primarily to the agricultural food resources available throughout their migratory routes and on their wintering grounds (Abraham et al. 2005). The abundance of these herbivores on breeding areas in BCR 7-PNR is causing loss or degradation of habitat for a variety of other bird species, and may, over time, cause changes in bird communities in the affected habitats. For example, Savannah Sparrows and their grass/shrub habitat showed large declines, up to 77%, over a 25-year period from 1976 to 2001 in an area adjacent to coastal salt marshes in northern Manitoba (Rockwell et al. 2003). This is attributed to destructive foraging by snow geese causing changes in the properties of the soil, and erosion of the unvegetated soils resulting in potentially irreversible changes (Jefferies et al. 2006). Decreasing Snow and Ross’s Goose numbers will likely require large-scale, intensive management efforts since recent evidence suggests that increased bag limits and the special conservation season (spring hunt) are not curtailing population growth as much as expected (Leafloor et al. 2012).

The spring hunt season this year will run from March 15th to June 15th. The daily bag limit will be 50 geese total (Snow and/or Ross’s), but there will be no possession limit.

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Some Albertans are concerned that hunters might accidentally shoot swans instead of geese. Many hunters are very good at identifying geese from swans, so I don’t think this hunt will be much different from the annual fall hunt.

For reference, Snow Geese can be identified by black wing tips and a short neck. Swans and much larger and have entirely white wings and a long neck. This goose/swan ID comparison from the ESRD website,

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The Birds of Bourron-Marlotte, France

I went birding a few times around Bourron-Marlotte (population 3,000) along rue Renoult, where we stayed at a friend’s house; it’s about 90 minutes by car south of Paris. The neighbourhood is very good for birding since it borders the Forest of Fontainebleau, and many yards are well landscaped with mature trees and thick bushes.

A map of the area where we stayed,

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The three eBird lists for the birding walks I took on rue Renoult are here, here, and here. And here are some of my favourite photos from our stay:

It rained every time I went birding in Bourron-Marlotte, so many of my photos have water spots or smudges on them, and of course the sky is overcast,

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I saw two Crested Tits while in France. They’re very pretty little birds, but the ones I saw both stayed high up in the trees, so my photos don’t do them justice,

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In the forest, many fallen logs were covered in moss and fungi,

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Chaffinches were all over the forest floor looking for seeds,

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Down the road from our friend’s house is a thickly treed yard where I saw many good species. This bird is a Firecrest; it was very quick and difficult to see as it flitted about in the bushes,

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Woodpeckers were very common in the woods as there are many mature trees. This is a Great Spotted Woodpecker,

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Common Blackbirds are very common around the countryside in France. Although the species name is “blackbird”, this species is in the thrush family and closely related to the American Robin.

Adult blackbirds have an orange-yellow bill while first winter birds have an all-dark bill,

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Great Tits were one of the most common species I saw in the village,

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While Eurasian Nuthatches look very similar to the Red-brested Nuthatches here at home, they sound very different,

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Blue Tits get their name from the blue cap on their head,

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This woodpecker is a Middle Spotted Woodpecker, which is distinguished from the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker by the amount of white on the back,

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There are two species of treecreepers you can see in France. The one below is a Short-toed Treecreeper which can be identified by white spotting on the wing tips and a long bill, but the songs are probably the best way differentiate the two species.

A Short-toed Treecreeper scaling up a tree,

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Along with birds, I also saw some mammals in France including this Red Squirrel; other mammals I saw included Wild Boar, Red Fox, and lots Roe Deer,

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Stay tuned for more posts about birding in France and Germany!

Birding at la Plaine de Sorques

A short drive from the house where we stayed, on rue Renoult in the village of Bourron-Marlotte (near Fontainebleau, south of Paris), is the Plaine de Sorques near the village of Montigny-sur-Loing. The Plaine is a protected nature conservation area, with two bird observatories overlooking the marsh.

From the parking lot, it’s a short walk to each of the observatories, but the closest observatory seems to be the main one and is very popular with birders and nature photographers in the area. One birder told my mother that the sightings at the first observatory tend to be better “75 percent of the time”! IMG_7175

Unfortunately, it was cloudy on both days that we visited Sorques, which wasn’t ideal for photography, but I got some decent photos.

Here’s the first observatory. As you enter the covered observatory, you can look out the (glassless) windows to the vast marsh beyond.

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There were two other birders who were scanning for birds on the water. Any time they would see something of interest, they’d call me over so I could take a look. Not surprisingly, European birders are just as generous as North American birders.

On the lake were Mallards, Gadwalls, Common Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Great Crested Grebes, European Cormorants, Grey Herons, and Northern Lapwings. In fact, there were hundreds of lapwings, another life species for me.

This Northern Lapwing came very close to us. They are very dapper shorebirds with quite the “hair-do”,

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I was very excited to see Tufted Ducks as they were a target species for me for the trip.

Two male Tufted Ducks,

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A Grey Heron that landed close to the observatory,

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One of the favourite birds that the French birders showed me was a Common Kingfisher which liked to perch close to the observatory and hunt for fish. The Common Kingfisher is electric blue on the back and wings with a chestnut-coloured breast.

The kingfisher flew to this perch three times in less than an hour,

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The sun setting at Sorques,

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My father and I drove to Sorques again at 9 am the next morning to see if I could spot some new species. Two photographers were already there waiting for the kingfisher!

A Mute Swan,

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Both of the swans feeding along the edge of the marsh,

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I saw two Common Kingfishers flying around the lake, and but this one stopped to do some fishing right in front of us,

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While watching the kingfisher, five Little Grebes swam out of the willows past the observatory,

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The photographers put some sunflower seeds on the ground and on a rail near the entrance to the observatory. A Marsh Tit was the first bird to check out the seeds,

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A few European Robins were also interested in the seeds, but they were challenging to photograph. Here’s one of my better photos,

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While I was trying in vain to get photos of the robins, this little bird showed up. It’s a Dunnock, a species that’s uncommon in France during the winter,

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After an hour at the observatory, my father and I left since we had other plans for the rest of the day.

If you’re visiting the Fontainebleau area, take some time to visit la Plaine de Sorques. You’ll see some great birds in a beautiful part of the French countryside.

If you need more convincing to visit Sorques, look at my eBird checklists, here and here, from both of my visits to the observatory. And here are some lovely photographs from one of the photographers that I met.

On the way to the observatory I saw lots of trees with “balls” of leaves. I’m not sure what species of tree this is, or if a particular growth habit causes this, but I’d really like to know. My family thought they looked rather like Dr. Seuss trees.

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