"For the Birds" Index

New! †Jim B has opened a message board dedicated to the sharing of information about wild birds and the hobby of bird watching. Birders of all levels of experience and any location are cheerfully invited to join in:


For The Birds (vol 2)


April 05, 2002 - For the Birds originally appeared as a series of posts on the Cape Ann Online message board. It was aimed at the audience who sees birds in their day to day life and is curious about them rather than the hardcore or even intermediate bird watcher.

Any word in blue can be clicked on for more info.

Whatís Happening

"April is the cruelest monthÖ." The shore duck populations (Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, scoters, eiders, etc) are clearing out and heading north. Soon the Common Loon that has been hanging around out back will be gone. As our winter birds head out the summer ones start showing up.

Iím partial to the winter birds. Leafless trees open up a much greater area to view. The ducks and grebes that are found around here in summer are literally driven off these waters by the pleasure boaters. Fewer people out and about can make for easier observing of less wary birds in winter.

The mornings are getting noisier around here with more birds staking out territory and nest building. The Northern Mockingbird, American Robin and sparrows are singing their hearts out. This winter was warm and some birds are showing up ahead of schedule. Only a little to the west of Cape Ann, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Barn Swallow have already been seen. Those two individuals are †

American Robin

By now everyone knows that the Robin is here all winter. While some Robins fly south other just flock up and travel in packs marauding any berry producing bush they can find. Folks see them in the spring, out on the lawn, and think spring. The true bird of spring is the Eastern Pheobe. This bird is your basic black and white flycatcher, common in Gloucester. It says "phee bee" in a raspy sort of way and has this obsessive / compulsive thing about shaking its tail. They are starting to show up now. It really is spring.


Field guides are books used to help identify birds. In For The Birds v1, I wrote about the merits of drawings vs. photos for field guides and recommended the drawing approach.

Size vs. content is always a big trade off field guides. There are field guides for specific groups of birds such as, Field Guide to Hawks, Shorebirds etc. but what we are looking for here is a general purpose field guide for Cape Ann. All of the following four are great books for the beginner and if you ever see a bird around here that is not in these field guides please email me immediatelyJ All have birds listed in the order in which the bird groups are believed to have evolved with the more primitive birds like Loons up front and more highly developed birds like sparrows in the back. This can be confusing at first, but stick with it and it will become second nature. Here is my recommendation in order of personal preference with a brief description. Links are to Amazon.com but all books are readily available locally.

  1. The Sibley Guide to Birds -- David Allen Sibley; Paperback
  2. This is the newest and, in the opinion of many, best of field guides. Outstanding drawings and exceptional write ups with clues to distinguish similar birds

  3. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America : Revised and Updated -- Jon L. Dunn; Paperback
  4. Excellent drawings but not quite the level of info an Sibley,s. Both this book and the Sibley guide are big books Ė more like car guides rather than something you would want to carry around in the field.

  5. A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America -- Roger Tory Peterson, Virginia Marie Peterson (Preface); Paperback
  6. The late Roger Tory Peterson is considered by many to be the father of modern American birdwatching. For decades his guide was THE guide. Roger Tory Peterson invented field marks, little arrows pointing out subtle differences between birds. It is often joked that before Peterson, all birds looked the same.

  7. Birds of North America : A Guide to Field Identification (Golden Field Guide Series.) -- Chandler S. Robbins, et al

OK so this is a sentimental favorite. Called the Robbins guide. I still have my 1966 edition and it is the only guide I actually carry into the field. Both the drawings and info are inferior to the other three, It is small, actually fits in your pocket. I havenít seen the latest version but the older ones (bid under $5 on eBay) have this neat little graph that only an old music teacher could love. I think it was called a sonograph and was a visual representation of each birds song. The graph totally useless for most folks but, hey, nice try.


Do Not Disturb

In For The Birds v1, I reported that I had seen a Merlin flying around Annisquam. On Monday morning he joined me for breakfast. I had Special K and coffee. She had a Starling.

I grabbed my camera setup and got about fifty shots of this bird while it tore into the Starling not thirty feet away. I knew the photos would be low quality but I had to shoot through a double paned window.

I really, really, wanted to get a good photo, but to open a door or a window might scare the bird off of her meal. That would be unethical. Never disturb wildlife no matter how excited you may be or how much you really want to flush that calling bird out of the bush and so on.

Many birds, and in the case of some raptors most birds, donít live through their first year. Just getting by is all they can do. Any meal missed or energy wasted goes into the negative side of the ledger of life. As birdwatchers, we must do everything possible to not be the cause.

Keep your pets indoors or under your control at all times. Volumes have been written about cats and the value of keeping them indoors. I wonít rehash all that. Any questions see: http://www.abcbirds.org/cats/catsindoors.htm

The worst offenders are people who take their dogs for a run in a wildlife sanctuary. What kind of idiot thinks it is a good idea to put their Irish Setter on a small boat and take him to southern end of Crane Beach and let him run through the flocks of migrating shorebirds that are resting there? Every bit of energy wasted trying to escape the dog lessens each birdís chance of successfully completing the migration and surviving. I have seen this far too often. Please donít give me that, "well, my dog / cat is only doing what comes natural" crap. There are no prides of Siamese Cats prowling the jungles in Thailand. There are no packs of Setters haunting the moors of Ireland. Your pet is the result of generations of inbreeding. It is not natural. It has no place in nature. It can only have a negative effect on the ecosystem. If you want to keep some lifeform captive for your companionship, fine. Just keep it to yourself. Donít be dragging Fido or Fiffie, whoís greatest hardship might be whining when his din din is late, outside to wreak havoc on birds whoís margin for survival is razor thin.

Try to watch birds with zero impact.


On binoculars and spotting scopes


Whatís happening, a daily compilation of observations by local birders


The local bird club


An on-line field guide


Jim Bís Online Bird Photos


"For the Birds" Index