Burlington Bay: Lake View Park & WTP

Today I fought my cold and went birding in the rain and 50’s°F to look for a Pacific loon reported in the morning. Unfortunately I didn’t find it, but I did find a red-necked grebe on the lake. I walked down to the beach next to the water treatment plant and looked for rocks. After the rain picked up, a red-breasted merganser came into one of the coves. The water is so clear I watched it forage around the rocks underwater before it went back out to deeper water.

Review: Peterson Field Guides Birding by Ear (Eastern/Central)

The 1st disc starts with a “dawn chorus” that is also a nice little quiz once you work your way through the CD’s! The credits mention that it is taken from an album for which I can’t track down an electronic recording, but it has been generated from more recordings than that, based on a quick scan of the track list. I assume the other sounds are from the other cited sources on the CD set booklet.

The intro is dated (1990) with the term “Indian” being used for Native Americans, and a simplistic mention of what the earliest inhabitants of the continent might have gleaned from bird song. From that sparse overview, though, I was led to personally flesh out some of the claims on how Native Americans interacted with birds. For instance, the narrator mentions that bird songs may have signaled food or a predator approach. A concrete example of that is the “chachalaca,” a bird name imitative of its call that originated from Nahuatl-speaking tribes. This bird is still a game bird today. As for predator approach, the first thing that comes to my mind would have been an enemy tribe, and I can think of how birds flush from me in the woods or otherwise respond with vigilance. Birds are also known to mob mountain lions (Morgan & Young 2007).

Here’s the track list…

Disc 1

  1. Introduction
  2. Mimics
  3. Woodpeckers
  4. Sing-songers
  5. Hawks
  6. Chippers & trillers
  7. High-pitchers

Disc 2

  1. Whistlers
  2. Owls & a dove
  3. Simple vocalizations
  4. Complex vocalizations
  5. Name-sayers
  6. Warbling songsters
  7. Commoners

Disc 3

  1. Wood warblers & a warbling wren
  2. Thrushes
  3. Unusual vocalizations
  4. Miscellaneous

This was my introduction to learning bird song, so I’m quite sentimental about this CD set! It taught me a skill I didn’t know I could acquire when I was younger, and helped launch me into my passion of birding. Since it meant a lot to my learning to identify birds, I’m not sure I can be wholly objective about it. It’s my favorite bird song learning tool, though.

I plan to continue to think about how we can learn, and how to teach, bird song. What worked for you? Do you have a favorite resource? Let me know in the comments!

Literature Cited

Tiffany Morgan, Jon Young. 2007. Animal Tracking Basics. Nature.

Brightest Ray Aurora I’ve Ever Seen!

We were lucky to see the brightest ray aurora I’ve ever seen right at nightfall! As soon as it got dark enough (but before total dark), we could start to see the aurora in the northern sky, so we knew it was going to be good. As it got darker, the green light only got brighter! We made our way to a clearing on Boulder Dam Rd. to see a bright, well-defined ray dancing like a quill pen writing. There was a patch to the east low in the sky, but unfortunately the aurora was quieting down by the time we got to our next destination. When we made it to Boulder Lake, there was still a bright glow that continued as we drove around. The activity took a hiatus as it got closer to our bedtime, so we took it as a sign to go in and warm up. How convenient to have a bright aurora so early in the night! 🙂

Yerkes Observatory Refracting Telescope

Paul & I looked through a bit of history, visiting the 40″ refracting telescope for an observing night. It was something I’d always wanted to do but never made time for when I lived in southern WI. The price to look through the old telescope is a little steep considering it’s an outdated refractor ($100/person); it seems to take advantage of those who just really want the experience (like me tonight) and maybe don’t know better. It hurt to shell out that kind of cash for an event I used to get paid for! Nonetheless, it was a really fun experience, and I can’t remember the last time I spent the better part of a night in an observatory (must really have been sometime in undergrad). Also, our docent was awesome and the decades of his amateur astronomy hobby showed in the knowledge he shared throughout the night. There was plenty I’d forgotten, was rusty on or just plain never knew!

It was a 1st quarter moon on a mostly clear night (but with somewhat poor seeing), so we looked at a heavily cratered area and Copernicus. Within our own solar system, we saw Neptune, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before! Triton was also very faintly visible alongside it. Ergo, it wasn’t as dark as it could be, but we still managed to check out some deep sky objects. We saw a globular cluster, the Saturn nebula, and the Andromeda galaxy.

G3 Aurora Near Autumnal Equinox

I’m actually still outside as I type this, in case the aurora decides to act up again! Tonight I saw the brightest sub-storm I’ve seen yet…from my deck! Before 10:30 PM I noticed a sub-storm brewing, which is a big deal if I can see it from my apartment. I could actually see structure and movement so I went out to my favorite dark sky spot. It’s always a tense drive if I wait until after there’s activity to get out of the city lights, but just even seeing a diffuse glow in the night sky that’s not the moon is thrilling along the way. Even so, once I got onto scenic north shore drive, I could see patches even while driving. Once I got to my spot, I could clearly see the homogeneous patches pulsating and moving. At that time, the aurora filled up about half of the northern sky with the “racing clouds” phenomenon.

I got to my spot just after 11 PM and for the first time saw “Steve” just west of the aurora. I stayed out until sometime after midnight, submitting a live Aurorasaurus report with my best photo at the time from the “Slow Shutter” app. Getting sleepy and cold, and since it was a work night (turned morning), I decided to head back home. I looked out my bedroom window to take a last gaze, and noticed it was quite bright! Then, I saw double homogeneous arcs start to form from the glow, so I grabbed my warm folding chair and rushed out to my deck (I’m lucky to be on the top floor and thus above the street lights). The arcs “broke up” into the colorful dancing ribbon, and I gasped as well as kicked myself for leaving my dark sky spot! I couldn’t believe how visible it was even from my apartment. After the band dissipated, I noticed those spiky, trapezoidal rays to the northeast, though this time from my vantage they were not as bright nor colorful. I watched the flaming phenomenon for awhile filling up the whole sky to the zenith from my vantage. The real clouds are now chasing me inside which is probably a blessing for my sleep, but also a tease as I can see the lights getting bright behind the clouds again! Once more, seeing that brightness behind the clouds which would usually be a full moon is a thrill in itself.

Onomatopoeia in American Bird Names

Birds names given by the earliest cultures that encountered them were often imitations of their songs/calls. What may be surprising is how many of those names have stood the test of time! For instance, Native cultures of Central America named the “chachalaca” for its calls. Unsurprisingly though, many of our North American English common names come from European cultures who had encountered the bird (or something like it) in Europe and named it there.

Ancient (before 1700)

Almost all of the definitions are directly copied from the numbered source following the definition (corresponding to the bibliography at the end), hence the quotation marks. Most of the etymological sources come from Online Etymology Dictionary (1) and were queried simply by typing the word into the search engine. Note that I also carried over their notation (i.e. the same use/meaning of the * also defined at the end of the post). Sub-bullets are bird names related to or deriving from the same root word.

  • booby – “…probably from Latin balbus ‘stammering,’ from an imitative root” (1)
  • goose – “…[Proto-Indo-European] *ghans (source also of Sanskrit hamsah (masc.), hansi (fem.), ‘goose, swan;’ Greek khen; Latin anser; Polish gęś ‘goose;’ Lithuanian zasis ‘goose;’ Old Irish geiss “swan”), probably imitative of its honking.” (1) Because of the mentioned relation in this definition, I include…
    • swan (1)
  • garganey (2)
  • heron – “…perhaps from a common [Indo-European] root imitative of its cry (compare Old Church Slavonic kriku ‘cry, scream,’ Lithuanian kryksti ‘to shriek,’ Welsh cregyra ‘heron,’ Latin graculus ‘jackdaw, crow’)” (1)
    • egret – “…diminutive of aigron ‘heron'” (1)
    • crane – “…cognates: Greek geranos, Latin grus, Welsh garan, Lithuanian garnys ‘heron, stork.’ Thus the name is perhaps an echo of its cry in ancient ears.” (1)
    • crow – “Old English crawe, imitative of bird’s cry.” (1) (There seems to be some suggestion that “sparrow” could be related to this word too.)
    • bittern
    • gannet
    • grouse
  • pigeon – “…from pipire ‘to peep, chirp,’ of imitative origin.” (1)
    • wigeon (2)
  • kite – “…Old English cyta, probably imitative of its cry” (1)
  • quail – “…from Old French quaille (Modern French caille), perhaps via Medieval Latin quaccula (source also of Provençal calha, Italian quaglia, Old Spanish coalla), or directly from a Germanic source (compare Dutch kwakkel, Old High German quahtala ‘quail,’ German Wachtel, Old English wihtel), imitative of the bird’s cry.” (1)
  • chicken – “…from root *keuk (echoic of the bird’s sound and possibly also the source of the word “cock”…)” (1)
  • kittiwake (2)
  • gull
    • mew – “‘seagull,’ Old English mæw, from Proto-Germanic *maigwis (source also of Old Saxon mew, Frisian meau, Middle Dutch and Middle Low German mewe, Dutch meeuw ‘gull’), imitative of its cry.” (1)
    • guillemot – “Fr., prob. Celt.; Bret. gwelan, gull, and O. Fr. moette, a sea-mew, from Teut.” (3)
  • skua
  • auklet
  • whimbrel
  • curlew – “from Old French courlieu (13c., Modern French courlis), said to be imitative of the bird’s cry but apparently assimilated with corliu” (1)
  • cuckoo – “from Old French cocu “cuckoo,” also “cuckold,” echoic of the male bird’s mating cry” (1)
  • owl – “…imitative of a wail or an owl’s hoot” (1)
  • shrike – “…probably echoic of its cry and related to ‘shriek'” (1)
  • jay – “…probably echoic of the bird’s harsh warning cry” (1)
  • raven –  “…imitative of harsh sounds” (1)
  • finch – “…perhaps imitative of the bird’s note (compare Breton pint ‘chaffinch,’ Russian penka ‘wren’)” (1) Because of that I include…
    • wren (1)
  • siskin – “via Fl or Du < Ger zeischen, dim. of zeizig < Czech čížek, dim. of číž (akin to Pol czyz, Russ čiž), of echoic orig.” (4)

*”not attested in any written source, but has been reconstructed by etymological analysis” (1)

Recent History (1700’s onward)

  • bobwhite
  • willet
  • poorwill
    • chuck-will’s-widow
    • whip-poor-will
  • pewee
  • phoebe
  • kiskadee
  • chickadee
  • veery
  • towhee
  • bobolink
  • pipit
  • grackle

Sources Cited

  1. Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php
  2. Google search of the word + “etymology”
  3. Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary
  4. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

First Meeting for MOU Young Birders’ Committee!

Today we had our 1st meeting, though with my continued west coast cold (there must be germs I’m not immune to out there) I just “typed in” while listening/watching all my other fellow committee members share thoughts, etc.! There were some pretty exciting things in the works, and diversity is a topic of great importance for all involved. We’re going to be jointly addressing the needs of the young (20-40) and youth (13-17) birders in the state. Our age group is a growing demographic in birding, and will eventually be torch-bearers for leadership (not to mention, plenty are already) within the birding community. I think there’s a lot of potential to reach out to young adults, and it starts with education, resource availability and “spark experiences” to get people curious. Also, engaging young adults in the type of events they’re already interested in (e.g. social gatherings, perhaps in conjunction with other compatible interests) seems to be working as a way to get people in the door.

I’m also excited to be a liaison and mentor for youth birders to engage with the wider birding community of MN. It will be great to think about challenges, barriers to inclusion, and this how we can help this age group get connected and supported. Hopefully too, they’ll want to engage with young adults in the “next age bracket up” to do some fun birding activities. I hope too they’ll help fill me in on the latest cool stuff going on with the kids these days, because at the ripe old age of 30 I already feel pretty out of the loop on the hip new things. 🙂