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TWiB Notes: Sowing Discord, Rust Belt flamingos, and a look at the Swainson's Thrush
Plus, some Chicagoland birding news.
Rare bird alerts have been a phenomenon since the days of taped answering machine messages and birding hotlines in the 1980s and 1990s. If one wondered where to look for interesting birds, they had to call a designated number and listen for the species, date, and location. There wasn’t anything you could do about the information being days old, or that some of the really good birds weren’t likely reported publicly at all. But the Internet and later smartphones changed all that.
Finding birds through alerts is sort of the corollary to last week’s post about using Merlin for field identification (more on that below). With an alert, you already know that an interesting bird may be around. You become likelier to find the rarity because you’ve been clued in to its presence.
In May, I wrote about the rise of the GroupMe messaging app in Illinois birding circles. GroupMe was being used in several counties—and statewide—to share interesting sightings. The next rarity was just a text message away. Just as the ink was drying on my post, though, the communication app Discord became the de rigueur choice for rare bird alerts—and loads of other chat topics—in the state of Illinois and several individual counties. The shift to Discord seemed to underscore the point that birding technology is always evolving.
Discord offers a number of benefits over GroupMe, and my brief experience utilizing it has been enjoyable. To me, something like Discord could altogether replace popular groups on Facebook. It’s simpler for one, and it doesn’t come with all the baggage of Facebook.
So, hopefully this post is a little more lasting than my GroupMe piece.
I received several interesting replies to the Merlin post. Here’s one from Rhetta Jack:
I have been messing around with the Merlin app for a while. It is terrible for quieter calls, such as Acadian Flycatcher and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. If it is windy it does not work too well, just like using your ears. Some loud calls are misinterpreted, such as confusing some Red-shouldered Hawk calls with Pileated Woodpecker calls. I think the app is useful when a tight group of birds are all singing and the app can untangle some of the calls. Such as a group of flycatchers singing at the same time as five-to-10 different warblers are calling. It is also good near loud traffic when my hearing is not that great.
As if to underscore these points, Merlin picked up a Tufted Titmouse in my neighborhood last week, when it was pretty clearly a cardinal calling. Just like good journalism, it’s always appropriate to use two sources for field ID: listen with Merlin and use your eyes to confirm the ID.
Flamingos show up in….Ohio?
St. Petersburg Beach, shown above, is not in Ohio, but the same meteorological forces, namely Hurricane Idalia, that brought flamingos to Florida also brought them much farther north, to places like Warren, Ohio. American Birding Association has a brilliant summary of the storm-blown flamingos that showed up in places like Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and North Carolina:
“Gawky hot pink waders began appearing as if in a collective fever dream or nationwide yard flocking prank.”
Warren is an unlikely place for a flamingo for many reasons. It’s a Midwestern town that’s seen local manufacturing decline and suffered population loss like so many others. The Rust Belt isn’t typically a place where one pictures a beautiful bright pink bird, but that is exactly what’s happened.
Rush of thrushes
For a few days each fall, the humble Swainson’s Thrush is the most numerous species in my local forest preserve. These northern breeders make their way south in numbers at this time of year. The best way to distinguish a Swainson’s Thrush from the other Catharus thrushes is by its buffy eye ring, visible above in the photo. Often there is buffiness on the cheek and upper chest as well. It’s trickiest to separate Swainson’s from the Gray-cheeked Thrush, which is overall grayer and lacks the eye ring. Get ready for Hermit Thrushes, too. They have a rufous tail that they tend to cock up and down as they perch.
CAS names Executive Director
Congratulations to Matt Igleski on becoming Chicago Audubon Society’s first Executive Director. Eagle-eyed TWiB readers know that Matt appeared in “Monty and Rose” and has been quoted previously in this space. From the announcement:
This is a brand new position and Matt joins CAS with decades of experience working in nonprofits. He has spent the past 9 years working at Lincoln Park Zoo educating people of all ages about animals, most recently as Student and Teacher Programs Developer. He served or is serving on several local bird organizations’ boards: Chicago Ornithological Society, Illinois Ornithological Society, Dunes-Calumet Audubon Society, and Indiana Audubon Society.
El Mundo de Monty y Rose
I’m excited to share that “Monty and Rose 2: The World of Monty and Rose” now has Spanish subtitles! This version will make its debut on Wednesday, September 20, at Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Willow Springs. I look forward to seeing you there. The following week, on Wednesday, September 27, we’ll show The Magic Stump documentary at the same location.
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