Birding Software Discovery

By Sue Ann Kendall

I’ve been having fun this weekend doing iNaturalist observations near Wimberley. I made over 100 observations and had a blast. I’ll share more about that later this week.

I’d seen some interesting birds, too, but was unable to get any photos other than this one.

Black vultures. Out of a screen window.

The black vultures were enjoying an armadillo across the road, and I got to listen to them croaking away, as well as to listen to their wings as they flew. Ah, peace and quiet.

Anyway, I was watching some little birds catching bugs and wondered what they were. It was hard to see through the screen, and I’d forgotten my binoculars. So, I fired up Merlin Bird ID, from Cornell Labs.

Sure enough, I realized quickly that they were little blue-gray gnatcatchers. I hit the “Yes, this is my bird” button and it asked me if I wanted to record it on eBird or your Cornell Labs Life List. Why, yes, I would!

Added to my brand-new list.

Those of you who use eBird might find this really handy. I love the Merlin software, because it helps you narrow down birds to ones that should be where you are and of similar size, color, and habit. That makes ID fun!

Here’s the starting screen.

Since there must have been dozens of phoebes, I made sure to record that one, too.

It’s cool that it shows you a map of where you are.

The Cornell folks also use the data we report for their research, but I don’t think it goes into the eBird database unless you report it to that account. I guess I should change over to get more hours, or maybe this way will count. They only added this feature this month!

This app is much more fun now! It’s great for beginning and intermediate birders. Recommend it to your friends who want an easy way to keep a life list.

Welcome Home, Boss

by Larry Kocian

Yesterday, many of us mentioned hearing and seeing hummingbirds in the tree tops, gardens, and at some feeders. Today, just after noontime, this hummingbird posed for the camera. Enjoy the short narrative as to what happened.

I looked out the window and saw a hummingbird at the feeder. I grabbed the big camera and went outside, somewhat hidden, and stayed motionless for 15 minutes or so.

Can’t tell who it is from here.

It was still raining off and on, pleasantly mild, thundering, all foliage was wet. The hummingbird sat on a tiny branch on a large Crape Myrtle tree next to the feeder. Did he see me? Most likely! So it was standoff. I stayed motionless and was not going to move, no matter what was itching or biting me. This went on for many minutes; it seemed like forever.

Big raindrops began to fall again. A couple of Carolina Wrens landed in the same tree. The hummingbird was aggravated with them and chased them off. I waited a few more minutes, raindrops more frequent. Then, the hummingbird made his move.


My camera clicked rapidly at the fast-moving target. I wondered, “What type of hummingbird are you, who are you?” I asked repeatedly.

Then, after feeding a couple of times at the left feeder, he came right at me to the camera. I zoomed the lens back, he positioned himself in the upright position, and revealed his identity, proclaiming, “I am back.”

The Big Reveal!

Then he went to the second feeder to feed. Welcome home, Ruby Red-throated Hummer.

March Chapter Meeting Was for the Birds!

Our chapter meets on the second Thursday of each month. We always look forward to a great speaker, and this month was no exception. El Camino Real chapter member Ann Collins put together a presentation on the birds that came to her back yard over this past winter, and she brought together two other members to provide additional information. Here are some highlights.

Ann Collins tells us you can still enjoy birding, even if you haven’t memorized all the pertinent features. Her well-loved Peterson’s Guide also helps a lot.

Ann both started and ended the presentation, first sharing some of the interesting birds she’s seen this year (leaving out the old favorites we all know and love). Her discussion of the three types of warblers helped me a lot, because I always have trouble with them, too, but now at least I’ll know a couple more. And she is GREAT with sparrows.

It impressed me that Ann has feeders that hold 40 pounds of black sunflower seeds. Wow. She did say that meant she didn’t have to fill the feeders so often. She also told us about the shallow wading ponds she had made, which birds really like, especially is the water is moving.

Recording Your Sightings

Joyce Conner then told us about some ways we can record the birds we see online and help to support research. She compared the relative merits of eBird versus the Project Feeder Watch. To quickly sum it up, on eBird you can document any bird you see, anywhere. Plus it’s free, though they appreciate a subscription to the Cornell Lab, who sponsor it. In the Backyard Feeder Watch, you watch just one spot for the winter birding season and record only what you see there on the same days of the week each week. It costs $15 per year, and they send you a lot of information, calendars, etc., when you join. So, they each collect slightly different kinds of data, but both are helpful for researchers.

Joyce explains the intricasies of bird-watching software, while Jackie looks on.

Joyce also noted there are many other places you can record bird sightings (like iNaturalist where most of mine go, though I’m trying to get up and running with eBird, too).

Also, she was kind enough to share with us some wonderful materials from the Feeder Watch folks. There’s even a little poster we can put up!

Attracting Birds

Next, Cindy Travis shared how she attracts birds that aren’t the “feeder” type by making her own suet feeders. The recipe seems easy (and gooey). That will be shared in another blog post, so you can try it, too! Suet (which contains lard, peanut butter, flour, and optional dried seeds, fruits and nuts) is great for woodpeckers and other birds that like to climb trees, as well as many other birds that prefer more hearty fare than seeds.

Cindy shares her suet recipe. You can see samples on the table.

Parts and More Parts

At the end of the presentation, Ann came back to talk to us a bit about bird anatomy, which she freely admitted was not her specialty, but the original speaker who was going to cover it was off in Austin becoming a Master Birder, which sounds really exciting!

All these parts make up a whole bird.

The part of this talk that fascinated me was when Ann talked about there being different ways to identify birds. She says she does it visually, taking in the entire bird. She said she learned to read the same way, word by word. She compared the other main way to ID birds as more like phonetics in reading, where you learn all the parts and put them together, often identifying a bird by just one pertinent feature. (Our auditory learner friends often identify birds by sound, which makes it easy to know what birds are there that you can’t see; for me it’s usually woodpeckers and Chuck-will’s-widows.)

The sun sets over Milano, Texas.

I was only SLIGHTLY distractred from the beautiful sunset that was going on during the meeting. I really shouldn’t sit near windows!