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Archive for the ‘Bird Identificaton’ Category

Learning Bird Songs

Once when I was a very new birder, I spent 30 minutes in my backyard tracking down a Carolina Wren that I heard singing.  From then on, identifying the songs of the Carolina Wren was pretty easy.  But many bird songs have been much more challenging for me and I still have much to learn.  I have both the “Birding by Ear” series of CD’s ($19.80 from Amazon) and the Stokes CD’s of bird songs and calls.  I especially like “Birding by Ear” for beginning to learn bird songs.  But after a while, it becomes tiresome to hear everything over and over just to get to a few songs that I don’t know well.

I’ve recently discovered Larkwire and found it to be very helpful in improving my skills in identifying bird songs.  The difference in Larkwire is the control that it gives you to study and compare selected groups as well as songs for individual species.  Practicing with this software is what helped me pick out the Scarlet Tanager on our Elk Knob trip this summer.  That’s something that I had not been able to do reliably before using Larkwire.  I like testing myself with the game aspect of Larkwire.  You can select a group of birds, have the program select a song, and try to identify the species.  The expert tips telling you what to listen for and describing the differences in similar songs are also helpful.

My only complaint is that Larkwire does not include more calls, but focuses mainly on song.  I’m especially aware of my inability to identify all the chips and calls that I hear in the fall when many birds are not singing.  Twice this fall, I’ve heard a Ovenbird emphatically chip, but I had no idea what is was until I saw the bird.  It would be nice to be able to listen to all those chips and practice with those, too. Larkwire’s founder, Phil Mitchell, was very responsive when I had a minor support issue, so I suspect that he’s receptive to customer requests and may add bird calls in the future.  Larkwire is constantly evolving with new features and product offerings.  The app version is new and a “Waterbirds” module is coming out in November.

A free demo is available on the website (no credit card required).  Give it a try and let me know how you like Larkwire.

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Doug Buri and Bob Janssen provide great information at their annual Shorebird Workshop.  Here are some of the useful tips that I learned from them:

  • Don’t agonize over determining leg color.  Instead, compare it to the color of the bill.  Is it the same or different?
  • If you find a sandpiper in a wooded pond, it’s probably a Solitary Sandpiper.  Spotted Sandpipers prefer more open habitat.
  • Stilt Sandpipers look similar to Lesser Yellowlegs, but their feeding styles are completely different.  Yellowlegs are dainty visual feeders.  Stilt Sandpipers probe for food in belly-deep water and frequently submerge their heads completely under water.
  • Feeding flocks of Short-billed Dowitchers are usually silent; flocks of Long-billed Dowitchers are generally noisy at any time of the year.
  • Dowitchers can be identified by plumage.  Experts Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch explain it in this article.
  • How can you distinguish Greater Yellowlegs from Lesser Yellowlegs?  If it looks big enough to eat, it’s a Greater Yellowlegs.
  • Clark’s and Western Grebes can be distinguished by their call.  Clark’s call is a single “kreeek” and the Western Grebe call is “kreeek kreeek”.  Also, Clark’s have lighter sides and Western Grebes have sides the same color as the back.  (Yes, a grebe is not a shorebird.  We did look at a few other species.)

And some shorebird info from other sources:

  • Male Pectoral Sandpipers are much larger than females (96 grams vs. 65 grams) and are even heavier than Killdeer (90 grams).  This is so that they can puff themselves up to impress the females.
  • Any Western/Semipalmated type Sandpiper seen between mid-Nov and late March (except south Florida) is certain to be a Western.
  • Peeps are tough, but Cameron Cox provides a different approach that I found really helpful.  Identification of North American Peeps appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Birding magazine.

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