Saturday, February 20, 2010

First photos with my new Lumix

After the past two days of beautiful weather while I was at work all day, the nice weather continued today, Saturday, for me to take my new Lumix camera out for its first photos.

An American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) had been reported from the breakwater at the edge of the Point Mouillee headquarters parking lot. It was still there today preening and walking along the breakwater and around the spruce trees. Not typically an over-wintering bird in Michigan, this pipit has found itself a nice spot during our mild winter.

Other photos of both near and far birds are below. Click on any image to enlarge.

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

After note: my good friend, Don Chalfant, sent me an email to suggest that the above bird may, in fact, be a Greater Scaup (Aythya marila). Don's a vastly more experienced and better birder than I am and he's probably right. But after checking all of my field guides, I'm not sure.

Hen and drake Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser)

All images have been cropped. The Northern Harrier and the Common Mergansers were, obviously, quite distant birds. I am pleased with all of these photos. Where I had multiple images of the same bird, I had trouble selecting which I wanted to include here.

The blue sky weather did not reliably continue on Sunday for my walk around Belle Isle. I didn't see many birds but I did manage a couple of photos.

Tufted Titmouse (Bacolophus bicolar) with a berry under gray skies.

Here's the same photo brightened up and cropped differently by my friend, Cliff, using Photoshop.

American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) soaking up some sun.

Sneak preview ...

Over the past couple of days my friend, Cliff Young, in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, has sent me some recent photos he has taken of birds in his backyard. Cliff apparently has a water feature and keeps up some nice feeders for birds in wintertime.

Above: Pied Wagtail (Moticilla alba yarrellii), a bird that it seems I should have a pretty good chance of seeing. In a return to What's in a name? this is our uncommon White Wagtail of western Alaska. Since I've never visited Alaska, I've also not seen our breeding Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava), or the infrequent Asian visitor, the Black-backed Wagtail (Motacilla lugens). Good luck with that last wagtail.

Above: Another wagtail, the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), is one that I may have somewhat less of a chance of seeing than the Pied. I'll need to find some fast running streams to see this bird. I have no way of really knowing, but I have a feeling that the Grey Wagtail may be a pretty terrific yard bird.

Above: Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) is Britian's most common finch and I should not miss it. This photo was taken on Thursday, 02-18-10 after a good dusting of fresh snow. I could not help but notice the green sprouting blub stems in the foreground. Aren't we still several weeks from this happening here? Crocus anyone?

Above: Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) clinging to the peanut feeder. Blackcap is another bird I have a very good chance to see.

Above: The little European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) appears unperturbed as the female Blackbird (Turdus merula) attempts to slide into home plate for the suet run.

Above: a somewhat calmer pose for the female Blackbird (Turdus merula). This is such an American Robin-like (Turdus migratorius) bird.

Above: Posing Magpie (Pica Pica) in the snow free green grass.

Finally, have a look at three charming birds that visited Cliff's yard in the summertime!

Above: Juvenile Green Woodpecker (Picus viridins). I should have a decent chance to see one. Exciting! Poised here at the edge of the pavement, this bird reminds me most of our Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus).

Above: Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major), also in Cliff's backyard, and one I should have a pretty good chance to see. I admit a fondness for woodpeckers and the above woodpeckers are both spectacular birds. In North America we do not have a woodpecker in the genus Dendrocopus or Picus.

Above: Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus). In addition to the ubiquitious Rock Pigeon (Columba livia), England also has Stock Dove (Columba oenas), Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) and Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur).

Check out BirdGuides: better birding through technology for more of Cliff's photos.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cameras used to be easy ...

On my most recent field trip to Michigan's Sault Ste. Marie (aka "the Soo"), at Hulbert bog I noticed the camera of another trip participant, Amy Ennis - a point and shoot Lumix [Panasonic] FX35, 12.1 MP, 18x zoom, IS. She showed me a sample of photos on her camera's viewfinder - Gray Jay, clear and sharp. I hadn't even tried to photograph this first pair of Gray Jays - too far and too flighty for my circa 2007 slow, point and shoot Canon Powershot, 6.1 MP, 12x zoom, IS.

Many attending the Soo field trip also had nice, big lens DSLR cameras, as do many of my birding acquaintances. Their photos with these cameras are, of course, fantastic. The DSLR shutter speeds are very fast and the photographer can just fire away.

I recall that on my first wintertime field trip to the Soo in February, 2005, I had a tiny, candy box of a digital camera - a Nikon Coolpix that I purchased second-hand from Julie Craves and Darrin O'Brien. My memory may be faulty, but I don't recall anyone using a big lens DSLR camera on that trip.

Cuban Pygmy Owl, Cuba, January, 2006

The photo above is of a Cuban Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium siju) that I took with my Nikon Coolpix by holding it up to an unoccupied Kowa spotting scope trained on the bird. This photo remains one of my most successful attempts at digiscoping. I was thrilled with the result, and I think this is the only bird photo I took on my birding trip to Cuba in January, 2006. All of the other photos I took on that trip were scenics, buildings, cars and people. The Coolpix finally broke. I took it to Jerry Sadowski, then at Adray Camera (those were the days - now sadly gone), and he just looked at me. "Cathy, you don't really expect me to try to fix this - do you?" I upgraded to the Canon Powershot. The thing is, I wasn't unwilling to upgrade, it was just that I was not knowledgeable about digital cameras; their usability, their functionality and their affordability. I still think digital cameras lack intuitive operational features.

Does anyone else remember this circa 2000 camera?

I have been thinking for awhile about upgrading my Canon Powershot but to what kind of camera has caused me to have some out-of-character inertia. I have three very nice trips coming up and initially I thought I would continue to use my current camera for all three.

I commented on my intention to upgrade my camera to my friend, Cliff Young, who I plan to visit in England this coming June. Cliff is a freelance photographer who photographs a variety of subjects and his website, Cliff Young Photography, is linked here. He wrote back that he has a DSLR Nikon camera body he no longer uses and a variety of lenses that he would also be able to provide for use while I am visiting. If I liked the Nikon, we could work out an agreement for me to purchase it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I know a few big lens bird photographers who, if given the choice, I would rather bird with than anyone I currently know. I need to be careful here.

I've only been birding for twelve or thirteen years. Even in this relatively brief period of time, big lens bird photography is a new thing that seems to have gained traction only in the past five years or so. It is impossible to go birding nowadays without running into the big lens DSLR photographers. Are they birders or are they photographers? Both? Sometimes it's hard to tell. Not exclusively, but most are men. As with their birding, most are quite competitive with their photographs as well. A Maryland birder, who is also a photographer, said this, "I don't care if I see the bird, as long as I get a good photo." Indeed, in Maryland, the birding community added an extra layer to their annual listing competition with the category of who photographed the most birds. Why go birding if one cannot also photograph the birds? Or, I've already seen all the birds and now I want to photograph them all.

I think Karl Overman, one of the most skilled and experienced birders I'll ever know, writes most clearly about the intrusion of photography into his birding on his new website. In an email, Karl wrote, "Birding f0r most of us is about collecting and if it is collecting photo images that is just as fine as county listing or bird banding - it is all a form of collection."

Certainly improvements in digital cameras, high-speed internet connections, birding websites, photo websites like Flickr and birding listserves have flung open the door to photography for birders. Remember what it was like trying to download a photo with your old dial-up connection? Painful. Have a look at this website, Digital Bird Photography, for the advancements birders and photography have achieved.

This caused me to think about how and why I use my camera for birding. Since I know I will never be a professional photographer, I recognize that my focus is limited. And I don't want absorption with photography to displace the enjoyment I find in birding.

1. I take photos to write my blog. In my blog I document my birding and other, mostly outdoor, experiences and activities. Five years from now I will never remember my most recent trip to the Soo without some kind of documentation. Did it snow? Rain? Was it sunny, was it cold? I can't imagine writing my blog without photos. Would I recall how blue the sky was behind the Northern Hawk Owl? How beautiful it all was? For many reasons, my blog has been an enjoyable, albeit time-consuming, activity for me.

Northern Hawk Owl, Sault Ste. Marie, February, 2010

I also use my photos to drive the narrative of my blog. Some of my photos are good, some are passable and then some are only identifiable. When they are only passable or identifiable, I admit this in the narrative. My blog provides me a place to put my photos into context and, for me, this is how the photos are most enjoyable.

2. I carry a camera in case, while out birding, I see a special bird. I learned the hard way. Back in my Nikon Coolpix days I rarely bothered to carry my camera. In April 2005, I was on a scouting trip to Tawas Point State Park for a trip I was planning with my Maryland birding friends. By the time I arrived it was late afternoon and sunny, but quite chilly. I was the only visitor in the park. I walked all around to check out the park and saw the birds one would expect to see at TPSP in early April. Ready to call it a day, I was walking back to my car when I saw a different bird - by color and flight style. Without going into any more detail, the bird was a female Smith's Longspur. I stayed with the bird and it was often no more than five feet from my toes. My cell phone did not have service in that area. I drove into town and used a pay phone to call a birding friend and asked him to post my longspur on the listserves. I drove back to the park and relocated the bird. As was typical for me, I did not have my camera. Finally, I had to leave. It was getting on for dusk and by then it was clear that no one else was coming to see the longspur. I wrote up my report and sent it to the Michigan Birds Records Committee (MBRC). I'm not an experienced rare bird report writer but I did my best, and not having a photo I probably need not add that my sighting of the Smith's Longspur was rejected. At that time, this would have been the first lower peninsula record of Smith's Longspur. Given my length of time with and my close proximity to the bird, even with such a basic camera as my Nikon Coolpix, it would have been easy to take identifiable photos. The lesson to me was this; no photo, no rare bird.

Pond in agricultural fields in Texas, January, 2009

Masked Duck (Nomonynx dominicus) and cropped Masked Duck in Willacy County, Texas, February 1, 2009 taken with my Canon Powershot and accepted by the Texas BRC, file number 2009-13; Texas photo record file under TPRF-2705.

Now I recognize that, when out birding, carrying my camera is almost as important as carrying my binoculars. Since, for me, it's important to have a carryable camera, I'm going to upgrade with the Lumix FX35. When I go to England this summer, I'll try using my friend's DSLR and see how well I can manage it. In the meantime, I'll retire my trusty Canon Powershot and begin practicing with my new Lumix - purchased today at Woodward Camera from Jerry Sadowski.

Many thanks to Jerry Jourdan for helping me with the research on the Lumix FX35. I sought his advice and my timing was perfect as he had just helped his father research and purchase the same camera.

Also, thanks to Cliff Young who offered me the use of his Nikon DSLR during my upcoming visit and helped me make my decision to purchase the Lumix.

Finally, if you are making the same decision to purchase a new camera, perhaps in the meantime you can use your cell phone like my friend, Colleen McLean. Colleen took the above photo of a White-throated Sparrow perched on the railing of her deck in Ocean City, Maryland. You may recall that Maryland was part of that huge eastern snowstorm. This little bird was appreciative of a dry place to stand.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blue skies, crisp air and great birds

This past weekend I participated in the annual combined Washtenaw Audubon and Jackson Aubobon field trip to Sault Ste. Marie led by Lathe Claflin, Gary Siegrist and Don and Robin Henise. Harold and Artemis Eyster, on their first trip to the Soo in wintertime, came with me and were great company for the weekend. We drove up to the Soo on Friday afternoon under low, gray skies. After lunch at a Big Boy's off 46 toward Alma, I thought the heavens would open with falling snow. It never happened, not even around Gaylord - the snow capital of the lower peninsula, and as we neared the bridge the skies seemed to brighten. Once across the bridge, the skies were clear as dusk approached.

Day One

Our fleet of six cars pulled out of the Plaza Motor Motel parking lot for a 7:30 am start. We drove through the old section of the Soo to our first stop at the imposing and impressive-appearing Edison power plant along the frozen St. Mary's river. A few Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) and Common Mergs (Mergus merganser) were all that we found in a small area of open water at the base of the power plant. From the power plant we headed to our next stop and the reason for our early start. Enroute a Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) was seen perched high up in a tree.

Click on any photo to enlarge the image

The early start was necessary in hopes of seeing Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellas) on their lek. Just a single bird was found on the lek and after awhile it flew to trees adjacent to the lek to join two others. As it turned out the birds were surprisingly tolerant of our presence and many got great photos. I saw my life Sharp-tailed Grouse when I first attended this trip in February of 2005 shortly after I returned to live in Michigan. I can't see this bird without thinking of Lathe and Gary. Lathe's words, "every feather on this bird is beautiful."

Following the Sharp-tailed Grouse stop we made our way to Dunbar Forest where the best bird, (the only bird?), were three Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator). This russet-colored bird was drinking from a small area of unfrozen water. While birds were few, we did find two very fresh owl tracks or wing imprints in the snow where an owl had landed to seize its prey. Of the two, the imprint below was the sharpest.

The owls footprints and wing imprints were very crisp over an old snowmobile track. It's possible that this occurred the night before. The owl's foot steps are leading away from the pounce prints.

From Dunbar Forest we made our way to the star of the day. We stopped to see our first Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula), a perched bird well seen through spotting scopes but much too distant for photographs. Harold spotted the second hawk owl tucked (amazing sighting - the bird was so well camouflaged on its perch) in a trangle of trees behind a house. Again, it was well seen through the scope, but too distant for photos. The third Northern Hawk Owl gave the photo below and many others just like it.

As you can imagine, the cameras were firing. As fine an experience as this was for everyone with or without a camera, it's unfortunate for the bird how this came to occur. Apparently, this is the same bird that was being well seen along M-48 last year and was drawn in for photos by a photographer who fed the bird mice. The bird is back for its second winter and is in a safer location along on a residential road off Pealine Road. Initially it was seen perched in trees behind a house. We parked in a line along the road. With the closing of our car doors the bird flew from its perch behind the house to the utility wires right in front of where we were standing - thinking it would be fed a mouse. Apparently, the bird has imprinted on the sound of a car door closing with being fed mice.

Somewhere in between the hawk owls, we stopped to scope a distant Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor).

After tearing ourselves away from the Northern Hawk Owl, we drove to Hantz Road looking for Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) . None were seen anywhere along Hantz, but the one above was finally found along Centerline Road. It was perched on a utility pole watching a couple of men uncover hay bales. Just as a car door closing triggered mouse to the hawk owl, for the Snowy Owl the disturbance of the hay bales meant a few mice scattering from their hiding places. Following the Snowy Owl, we had lunch in the center of Rudyard at a family restaurant called Pure Country. My grilled cheese sandwich was made with thick, fresh bread and was very good.

While we were looking at the Snowy Owl, we saw a flock of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivals) flying and calling over the fields. Against the bright blue sky they looked like little bouncing jewels. After lunch we went to the dead-end road with the single house with feeders for Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) and Snow Buntings. At one point we saw both species perched together in a small tree near the house. I include the terrible photo above only to show that these birds will perch in trees. This was the first time I have seen wintertime Lapland Longspurs in the Soo area.

Following the buntings and longspurs, we travelled along roads with large fields looking for Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus). One was finally found, (again, how Robin spotting this bird is anyone's guess), a beautiful dark-morph, perched at the top of a tall, distant tree with other trees around for camouflage. Scoped views were great, but the bird remained too far away for photos.

Finally, Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) and a tree full of Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) were found along the same road. The grouse was perched in a tree and eating buds - aka "budding." The waxwings were feasting on a crabapple tree in a field. They were skittish and we could not approach closely, but we all got great scoped views. The Bohemian Waxwings were our final birds of the day.

I took the photo above because these were the only two clouds I saw in the sky the whole day. I thought their presence should be noted. For the day, miles driven: 128! Dinner and exhaustion concluded the day.

Day Two

No one complained about being able to sleep in for an extra half hour for our 8:00 am start. Again, the sky was bright and clear for the start of another great day.

First stop: Hantz Road for a bright, white Snowy Owl. He was finally found at the end of the road, perched on a old, wooden billboard support. Just beyond his perch cars whizzed by on the I-75.

This is my highly cropped photo of the very distant all white Snowy Owl - only the second I've ever seen. Even with such a terrible photo, you can see the whiteness and brightness of this beautiful bird.

On to our much anticipated stop at the Hulbert bog for Gray Jay and ... wait for it ... Boreal Chickadee (Poecile hudsonica) spotted on an earlier field trip, and again by the trip leaders on their scouting day for this trip. It seemed very promising. The one and only Boreal Chickadee I have ever seen was at an incredible feeder station at a private home in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada a couple of years ago on this very same field trip. That look was clear, but short and I was really looking forward to seeing a Boreal Chickadee in its natural habitat.

I'll cut to the chase. We did not see the Boreal Chickadee despite trying hard - a disappointment for everyone. We did see numerous Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) who came in for the seed that Gary put down for them, and again I got another good Black-capped photo. My jinx may be broken with the photos I took in the Arb a couple of weeks ago.

I also think the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) photo below is quite nice. A nuthatch always looks better in a tree, but this bird also came down for the seed spread out on the snow.

When the Boreal Chickadee did not show up, this Pine Grosbeak provided a nice distraction. He came in very close and perched in a variety of places that were conducive for taking photos. I really think he was just hoping the people would leave so he could also have at the seed. I took many photos and none really turned out well. This is the best.

Finally, another Hulbert bog cre′me de la cre′me.

In all, we saw four Gray Jays (Perisoreus canadensis) - two that were rather cautious followed by two that flew in to within ten feet of us to pick up the Trader Joe's raw trail mix that I put down for them. They stuffed their beaks with as many nuts as they could carry and flew off to stash the nuts in a safe spot. I don't think I've seen Gray Jays in over three years and last year during my trip I did think that the birds might be gone from Hulbert bog. Happily, I was wrong. These birds are such crowd pleasers. Of note, with the photos above and below, the bright sun and the reflection off the snow caused the pale yellow on the bird's forehead and crown to appear white. That little dab of yellow gives this otherwise aptly named bird its bit of color thereby, for me, adding to the Gray Jay's charm.

With these final photographs, the field trip ended. It was hard to leave while two Gray Jays continued to fly in. But, we had a long drive home and many more hours before sleep.

All weekend long, I wanted to take a wintertime photo of Harold and Artemis to include here, but I kept forgetting. A review of my photos turned up this taken last April when we were all at Whitefish Point together. They're both taller now and, while they've been good birders for a very long time, their birding expertise continues to increase by the minute. We'll just ignore the fact that this is a springtime photo.

I have no idea how many miles I drove from Friday to Sunday, but it was a lot and a quick check of my mileage reveals that I am now due for an oil change. I can't say enough good things about this field trip.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What's in a name?

When I began this blog and wrote about a bird seen or photographed, I included the bird's common name followed by the Latin name in parenthesis and italics - just like in a real field guide. With this effort my goal was to try to learn Latin names of some birds at least, if not most. This effort fell by the wayside when there were too many birds to be mentioned and confirming and including the Latin name became excessively time-consuming. Just making sure the spelling was correct was a challenge. I always think that I will go back and edit to add in the Latin name, but I never do.

Lately I've been doing some research on birds in Great Britain for an upcoming trip in June and I am, again, reminded of the importance of the Latin names of birds. In fact, Great Britain has many of the same birds we have, but their common names are different.

In the family Gaviidae, take three of our loons: Gavia stellata, Gavia arctica and Gavia immer; our Red-throated, Arctic and Common loons respectively are, in Great Britain, the Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver and the Great Northern Diver.

But that was easy. How about these two birds in the family Podicipedidae, starting with the British common names, Slavonian Grebe and the Black-necked Grebe? Podiceps auritus and Podiceps nigricollis respectively are our Horned Grebe and our Eared Grebe.

In the family Anatidae, amongst the geese and ducks, the Brent Goose (Branta bernicla) is our Brant. Many of the ducks are the same: Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), Gadwall (Anas strepera), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Greater Scaup (Aythya marila - apparently they do not have Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis making their scaup ID somewhat easier), Common Eider (Somateria mollissima), Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), and Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis). Mallard, as always, is just a Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), actually belongs with the other Anas sp. above.

But many are not: Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) and Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) are our Black Scoter and White-winged Scoter. Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) is our Common Goldeneye, but then they don't have a Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) that they need to differentiate. Another quite different common name is Goosander (Mergus merganser), our Common Merganser.

In the family Phasianidia, our Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) is Britain's Red Grouse. I've never seen a Willow Ptarmigan, but it appears, by the range map in the field guide I am using, that I may have at least some chance to see a Red Grouse.

In the family Accipitridae, this continues with the harriers and hawks (in Britain called buzzards - I seriously like our word hawk much better) where there is the Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus), or our Northern Harrier. My favorite, the Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is the Rough-legged Buzzard in Britain. As I said, I seriously like hawk much better. For a photo of Britain's Rough-legged Buzzard or our Buteo Lagopus see Thomas Krumenascker's action shot linked from the RSPB's on-line newsletter, BirdGuides: better birding through technology.

Moving on to shorebirds, in the family Charadriidae their Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) is our much better named Black-bellied Plover. Similar, but not quite, in the Scolopacidae family, their Knot (Calidris canutus) is our Red Knot and their Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is our Ruddy Turnstone. Their Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) is our Red Phalarope. Huh?

No this is not a Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), but rather a Little Owl (Athene noctura) in the family Strigidae. Photo by Cliff Young of Leamington Spa.

The differences continue with fewer of the little birds, but there are a couple of quick examples worth noting. In the Troglodytidae family, our Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) is Britain's Wren. While the latin name is shared, Britain's Wren has quite different habits than our Winter Wren. In the summertime it is quite tame in peoples' gardens and is vociferous like our House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). Their Shore Lark (Eremophila alpestris) is our Horned Lark and this makes sense. Our Horned Larks are readily found on the shore at Whitefish Point, for example.

Have a look at this photo by Bryan Wright, again linked from the RSPB's on-line newsletter, BirdGuides: better birding through technology, of Regulus regulus. Would you think this was our Regulus satrapa? There are some identifiable differences.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list. A review of the myriad families of seabirds, gulls and terns would require even more spelling scrutiny. In addition to the ducks, other birds with exactly the same name - Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Sanderling, Barn Owl, Barn Swallow - see, I've tired of writing the Latin names again. And then there are the birds in the same genus but different species; our Redhead, their Common Pochard; their Grey Heron, our Great Blue Heron. They also have a Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), but it looks nothing like our cuckoos (Coccyzus sps.), more like a nightjar or a dove. However, its call really is "cuckoo". They have a Magpie (Pica pica) that looks very much like our magpies (also Picas sps.).

Above: Grey Heron (Aedea cinerea) not our Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias); however, apparently just as common. Photo by Cliff Young of Leamington Spa. This bird caught Cliff by surprise when he saw it perched over his garden pond. He grabbed his camera and got off two quick shots before the bird flew.

In the Paridae family, our seven chickadees (Poecile sps.) look like their six tits (Parus sps.). They also have a Panurus sp. tit and an Aegithalos sp. tit both of which are very different from each other and from the Parus sps. tits. In the Picidae family, they have no Picoides woodpeckers. In the family Turdidae, their Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) looks like our Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) but is in the same genus as our American Robin (Turdus migratorius). They have seven Turdus sps. Even their Blackbird (Turdus merula) is a thrush. And, I haven't written anything about the buntings, the warblers, the crows, the finches ...

So, what's in a name? Now there's a loaded question, but the Latins saved the day. Please don't look for spelling errors!

Here's a Black-necked Starling (Sturnus nigricollis) taken in Shenzhen, China this past December by my friend Harold Eyster of Chelsea, Michigan. If we had starlings like this, would we complain about starlings? And, the latin name for their/[now our] European Starling (Sturnis vulgaris).

Information obtained from the dated Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, published by Larousse, 1995 - not a great, but a serviceable field guide with some interesting tidbits of information. There is a new Princeton field guide just coming out, Birds of Europe by Lars Svensson, that I have on order and am looking forward to receiving.