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Red Tails Jan/Feb 2024

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Red Tails News Letter Jan Feb 2024
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Merlin and Other Bird Identification Tools

by Margaret Heming

Identifying bird species is a challenging task. There are over 11,000 species on our planet, 1,267 species in the United States, and over 500 species in Washington State! There are many great field guides available to help with the task of bird ID. My personal favorite is the Sibley Guide

to Birds, which comes in book form or as an app for the phone. Other apps that can be downloaded to your smartphone include Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab, Picture Bird, and Audubon Bird Guide. The focus of this article will be Merlin. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology created the Merlin app in 2014 to help make bird identification easier.

The information in the Merlin app is based on more than 800 million sightings that have been submitted to eBird from birders around the world. Merlin can help to ID birds in three ways, which I will briefly describe.

Number 1: The Bird ID Wizard asks you three simple questions about the bird in question: size, color, and activity. Merlin then provides possible matches to the information you have provided. (This is also how the Audubon app helps with bird ID.)

Number 2: Sound ID allows you to have your phone “listen” to the birds around you and provides you with matches. This feature of Merlin is regarded by many birders as more accurate than the photo ID feature. The recordings can then be used to verify that you have indeed seen or heard the bird in question. This can be important when submitting rare birds to eBird, as you are asked for sound or photo proof of a sighting.

Number 3: Photo ID attempts to ID birds that you have photos of. The photo needs to be a clear, focused picture that fills up the space in the square provided. This ID system is based on thousands of photos uploaded by eBird users to the Cornell Lab’s MacCaulay Library of bird photos. Many experienced birders are frustrated by the mistakes in bird ID that happen with Merlin. But since Merlin is powered by eBird, it should improve over time.

So, if you love birds, there is a lot of help out there to improve your ID skills. Start with a good field guide and read it! From personal experience, the next big game changers are getting good binoculars, going on Audubon bird walks with experienced folks, and then getting a birding camera. I like to test my knowledge by looking at the American Birding Association’s Facebook group called “What’s This Bird?” I just try to ID the birds before I look at the experts’ ID solutions. There is another good app that I haven’t tried yet. It is the BirdNet app, a free machine-learning powered tool that can identify more than 3,000 birds by sound alone. It generates reliable scientific data and makes it easier for people to contribute citizen-science data on birds by simply recording sounds, according to new Cornell research.

To conclude, the next time you see a birder walking around holding a cell phone up, you’ll know that they are trying to ID birds with one of the listening apps. Merlin is a great tool, especially for beginner birders. The app was named “Merlin” because of its uncanny, almost magical way of guessing which bird you hear and/or see (at least that’s the goal being worked toward). But don’t forget to read your field guide.

Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology website

From the Desk of the President

Happy New Year

We are in the thick of winter, but I am actually writing this before Thanksgiving of 2023. Why so early? I needed to drop all photos and articles into the shared Google folder before December due to school vacation for our KTEC graphic design class! See their ad on page 7. We are grateful to get to partner with this school since the cost is very affordable to CBAS.

Margaret Heming, our CBAS Field Trip Leader, once again has contributed a couple of interesting articles to this newsletter: one on the bird identification phone app Merlin and other tools, and another about the rare bird sightings for our area, which was a cause for a few birders to come see for themselves. Margaret has been asked to lead a Bus Tour/Hike for the Sandhill Crane Festival coming March 22-24, 2024. She has also enlisted help from two or three of our CBAS bird photographers, and they know how to locate the birds! Sign up early for this tour because it will fill up fast.

This newsletter features Paula Zanter- Stout’s beautiful photography. As many of you know, she is one of the experts on our Facebook page, Central Basin Audubon Society, and a professional wildlife photographer. When I asked if we could use 15 or so of her photos, Paula generously gave me 20!

I am so grateful for our donors’ generosity to our Ron Van Nurden Scholarship Program! Thank you to those who renewed memberships, joined for the first time, or gave new memberships as gifts. Thank you to Margaret Schiffner for keeping track of it all as our treasurer and membership chair. It will be a Happy New Year for CBAS!

Unexpected Visitors: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Harris's Sparrow

by Margaret Heming

On October 27th, a member of our Central Basin Audubon Society discovered a rare bird for our area. Paula Zanter-Stout was birding at Potholes State Park and saw a very small (4-5 inch) woodland bird with a long tail, flitting about in the Russian Olive Trees. The bird was blue-gray above and whitish below, with a white eye-ring. Paula attempted to ID the bird using Merlin, but since that species is not supposed to be here in our neck of the woods, Merlin did not recognize it. Paula sent photos to me and asked for ID assistance. I was very familiar with the species, since my husband and I winter in Yuma, Arizona. I belong to the Yuma Audubon, and nearly every time we have a bird outing, we see this species. To verify, I put Paula’s photos into another online ID tool called “Picture Bird.” I also checked my Sibley Bird Guide and the Audubon app. The species was identified as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

I got really excited about Paula’s find. I realized that other bird watchers would love the chance to see a rare species, so we needed to submit the finding to eBird. That way birders who subscribe to eBird’s rare bird alerts would get notice of the Gnatcatcher. Paula hadn’t created an eBird account yet, so I offered to submit it with my account and give her credit for the find.

Matt Yawney, who oversees Grant County’s eBird submissions, agreed with this. In fact, he was excited that I posted it and wanted more info on where to find the bird. Matt went to the state park and found the bird on the 28th, as did Shiraz Vira, several other enthusiastic people, and I did as well. One gentleman drove up from the Tri-Cities just to see this little guy! On November 9th, the Gnatcatcher was still being spotted at Potholes State Park. So, it hung out in our area for at least thirteen days. This is the first sighting of this species in our county.

Two weeks after Paula found the Gnatcatcher, she spotted and photographed another bird rare for our area. She was birding at Potholes State Park again, which is one of her favorite birding locations. Near where the Gnatcatcher was found, a Harris’s Sparrow appeared. Paula got great photos, I submitted the bird to eBird for her, and much interest was again generated by a little bird. Shiraz also found the species at the Coulee City sewage treatment ponds on October 31st. The Harris’s Sparrow is Canada’s only endemic breeding bird, meaning it’s the only bird species that only breeds in Canada. It mainly winters on the southern Great Plains but has visited all of the lower 48 states. The species has declined 63% from 1970-2014 due to habitat loss in both their breeding and wintering grounds.

CBAS Gives Many Thanks

by Margaret Schiffner

Central Basin Audubon Society wishes to thank the following for their contributions made to the Ron Van Nurden Memorial Scholarship Fund! Krista Swanson, Cortz, CO; Anonymous, Centennial, CO; Gayle Van Nurden, Renton; Jane Grant, Othello; Jenny Hayes, Quincy; Bill Weiss, Quincy; Kathleen Morton, Spokane; John Moody & family, Ephrata; and RCF Giving Fund, Indianapolis, IN. Plus the following, all from Moses Lake: Emma Lou Bishop, Mary Davis, Robert Kent, Animal World Veterinary Clinic, Pioneer Veterinary Clinic, Forrest & Charlotte Hardt, GFWC - Moses Lake Women’s Club, Don & Cynthia Calbick, Gayle Talbot, and Ed Stout & Paula Zanter-Stout. Thank you all for your generosity, and if there were any other contributions, they will be listed in the next issue.

We are also grateful to those who renewed their CBAS membership to keep our chapter operational: Bill Weiss, Kevin Goetz & family, Gayle Van Nurden, Forrest & Charlotte Hardt, Fay Coats, Randy & Elaine Hill, and Mona Kaiser. We welcome new member Victoria Dawson!

Board Meeting

1st Friday of every month @ 1:00 PM

Call Margaret Schiffner for directions.

The public is always welcome to attend.

January 5, 1 p.m. (weather permitting)

February 2, 1 p.m.

March 1, 1 p.m.

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