Just got back from banding in Louisiana for the last two days with an awesome bunch of people from Madison Central High School in Madison, MS. Also present and helping out were some grad students from LSU. Highlights were lots of Henslow's Sparrows, and a Le Conte's Sparrow, and one very cool Bachman's Sparrow. The trip was a great success. Very fun.
I was reading about John Vanderpoel's big year effort this year. He recently made a joke on his blog about the Greylag Goose, a bird he's been expending a great effort to see. He says it's so boring it was probably described by Linnaeus himself. So I thought I would look up the original description. Linnaeus did name it, and he didn't seem to write to glowing about this bird any more than John V. did. Linnaeus was incredible stingy with words in his descriptions. You can hardly blame him though, when one is attempting to describe every living on the planet you're bound to want to keep things terse. Unfortunately the byproduct of this and given that everything is in latin makes it really hard to figure out what the heck old Carl was actually describing. Here's a little flavor of that. From his description of the Greylag, Canada Goose and Brant.
This is the description of the Greylag from 1758 from Systema Naturae, 10th edition vol 1, Basically everything that follows excluding my comments of course is translated from latin. This was done by me and somewhat poorly, so I apologize.
"[Anas] Anser A. Beak semicylindrical, the body gray above, pale below, the neck striped."
He goes on to list three subspecies labeled alpha, beta and gamma: Anas Anser Ferus [wild goose], AnasAnser domesticus [domestic goose] and my personal favorite Anser canadensis maculatus [Brown stained canadian goose] which I think is either supposed to be a Brant or a Canada Goose, I'm not really sure since he has descriptions of both of these species on their own.
He describes the brown-stained canadian goose and it gets a little confusing:
Neck striped. Spontaneous white ring below base of bill; migrates (or moves) by phalanges(I'm not sure if he means phalanges to be interpreted as "groups" or the bones in the wingalso called phalanges); imprisoned threads, males 1, females 4 (not sure why this is there Iguess this is some stripe he's describing on the bird where males have 1 stripe and femaleshave 4); from there wing and feathers wooden, spartan to the right.
He has other geese described including the white-fronted goose, which we now treat as at least two species. He called it Anas erythropus. He describes it: cinereus, fronte alba[Gray, white forehead]. He probably lumped the bean goose (which is itself actually 2 species) in with the White-fronted Goose too. The bean goose wasn't described to science until two years later by Malthurin Jacques Brisson.
He describes the Brant under the name Anas Bernicla "Brown, head neck chest black, white collar. Duck head meets black[...] Dwells in northern Europe; migrates above Sweden"
Linnaeus also lists Anas canadensis [Canada duck] which he provides with the synonym Anser canadensis [Canadian Goose]. This description is much nicer. He describes it in six words fuscacapite colloque nigro gula alba [brown, black head meets with white throat]... then some references and then "Dwells in Canada."
So basically the take away from this is that Linnaeus was pretty inconsitent with his descriptions, didn't include a lot of detail, and the result is that it's hard to tell which of our modern species he was actually talking about just by reading the descriptions. Fortunately the quality of descriptions has increased since then along with our much larger number of known bird species. Given the 10,000 species we know today it would be a huge mess to try to rely on this type of description to tell species apart.
From last week at Noxubee NWR. This was found by Margaret Copeland, and Terry called me and I went there and refound it with him. County bird 159 for Noxubee County. I just hit 250 for the state yesterday. In Grenada County yesterday I found about 45 Franklin's Gulls (249) and one Dunlin (250!) .
Fall migration is slow around these parts compared to other parts of the country (I'm thinking coastal California; Dauphin Island, Alabama; Cape May, New Jersey), so you have to work it pretty hard to get a good warbler/vireo fix. That's precisely what I did this weekend. I got out Friday, Sunday and Monday and with fairly good results.
Cory's Shearwater Brown Pelicans Atlantic Flying fish (Cheilopogon melanurus) Audubon's Shearwater Bow-riding bottlenose dolphin. Bridled Terns Frigatebird Black Tern dark morph Jaeger
Last weekend I went to Venice, LA for a Gulf coast pelagic adventure. It was a hoot! I drove 6+ hours on Saturday afternoon, found a quiet place to lay low, and then slept in the car until 5:30am. The boat left the dock at 6:30. This was my first boat trip into the Gulf, so I was excited about the possibility of seeing some lifers. All the other pelagic trips I've been on have been in the Pacific ocean. There are a slew of species that occur in gulf that don't occur in the Eastern Pacific. The bird activity was low for the most part. Near shore there were a a lot of terns and marsh birds and that sort of thing, but there was a long lull before we saw any pelagic birds. My understanding is that you need to hit clear blue water before you tend to find anything pelagic. Getting to blue water took about 3 hours from when we left port, and when we got there it wasn't exactly swarming with birds. The birds we did get were some quality species nonetheless. I ended up with 4 lifers after 13 hours on the water, which I'll take any day:
The drive back was brutal since I had to be back by 8am monday morning I elected to drive back on Sunday night. I drank copious caffeine and still struggled to keep my eyes peeled open. The boat pulled into the dock around 7pm or so, meaning the six plus-hour drive got me home around 2AM, then up a few hours later at 6:30 for my Entomology class. Ouch.
Terry called me this afternoon to let me know about an Upland Sandpiper at North Farm that he'd found. This isn't the best photo, but this guy wouldn't let me get within 100 yards unless it was 100 yards over my head.
Some people look down on listing, but I love it. It's important to acknowledge that listing is more or less a game, even if it is a great way to keep track of birds you've seen, to contribute to our collective knowledge of bird distributions and occurrence patterns, and to inspire personal adventures. The key is to remember to learn the birds, and not think of them solely as a check mark on a list. I feel that I've been able to balance listing with a broader appreciation for nature and birds as a whole. I've studied and even written scientific papers on a handful of bird species and don't feel like listing has been detrimental to my performance as a natural resource scientist. If anything it keeps me outside looking for birds and honing my ID skills. I'm trying to learn my butterflies too. I know many of the large charismatic species, but still need a lot of work with some of the more subtle groups like the skippers, hairstreaks and duskywings.
Current List totals
World Total: 836
North America total 753
ABA total 580
eBird ABA total: 576
California : 329
ABA area ticks: 2,172
US State lists: 21
Some Selected County Lists
Humboldt County CA: 260
Oktibbeha County, MS: 184
Uvalde County, TX: 150
Noxubee County, MS: 159
Real County, TX: 125
County ticks: ~5,500 (need to add it up again)
County lists: 165
mode county list: 1
median county list: 21
1,000 World/ 164 to go
800 North America/ 47 to go
600 ABA area birds/ 20 to go
400 Texas species/ 56 to go
400 California Species/ 71 to go
300 Mississippi Species/ 50 to go
150 Tennessee Species/ 24 to go
200 Alabama species/ 94 to go (I just started birding in Alabama in February)
3,000 ABA area ticks/ 828 to go
Me and Jill, my wife, at McArthur-burney Falls. There were black swifts behind us.
I'm 27. I'm doing PhD research on birds in pine plantations in Mississippi. I have a Master's Degree in Biology from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, and I'm currently a PhD student at Mississippi State U. in Starkville, MS.