March 3, 2013

Birding: Bird-watching crowd can now hang out – online

By HERB WILSON

I want to alert you to a new online resource for birders called BirdFellow (www.birdfellow.com). It is a crowd-sourced mine of information on North American birds. It shares some features with Wikipedia and with Facebook in encouraging communal sharing of information.

click image to enlarge

These screen shots show the new online resource for bird-watchers called BirdFellow. Users can access high-quality images and recordings of birds, plus many other features.

When you visit the site, you first see a glorious panorama of a mountain lake. It's a very inviting entry site. From the homepage, you can take a useful video tour of the site. It's an easy site to navigate so you can jump right in and explore if you prefer to skip the video.

I started by visiting the Social Field Guide. I decided to begin by investigating the coverage of a Brewer's Sparrow, a western sparrow whose distinguishing characteristic is the lack of distinguishing characteristics. Many Brewer's Sparrows are dismissed as so-called Little Brown Jobs. I typed in Brewer's Sparrow, hit enter and was presented with an absolutely gorgeous photo of a Brewer's Sparrow.

I clicked on the identification photos and had access to another 20, equally stunning photographs. Other links allow you to upload your own photos to the site, part of the crowd-sourcing nature of BirdFellow.

Like all species pages, the Brewer's Sparrow page has text fields below the photograph window. An identification section describes the field marks of females and males. The author of this account agrees with my take on the Brewer's Sparrow by writing, "Sometimes the best field mark is no field mark."

The length and wingspan are provided along with sections on habitat, behavior and feeding. A "voice" section gives a brief description of the songs and calls, and a "listen" button allows you to hear high-quality recordings of those sounds.

At the bottom of the account, several links are provided. Field Notes allows you to enter your own notes. The Expanded Life History link takes you to a number of categories (e.g., nesting habits, relationships to humans) where you can contribute content to the site. You can post your sightings via another link.

I've barely scratched the surface on this promising resource. Once you become a member (free), you can join various discussion groups or create your own. Give it a try. At the very least, you will have the pleasure of enjoying a wealth of photographs of these winged animals we love.

MAINE BUTTERFLY SURVEY (MBS)

This volunteer-based survey (http://mbs.umf.maine.edu) has the goal of mapping the distribution of Maine butterflies and skippers at the level of townships. We are beginning the next-to-last year of atlasing. As one of the coordinators of the project, I am asking you to consider joining this citizen-science project.

The survey is a voucher-based program so records must be either based on a collected specimen or a photograph. To join the survey, you need to attend a six-hour training workshop. We will provide lectures on basic butterfly biology and give details on the MBS record-keeping procedures. All participants will be given a butterfly net and collecting equipment, an MBS manual and data forms.

The next workshop will be held Saturday, April 20, at Colby College. A free hot lunch will be provided.

Please email me (whwilson@colby.edu) if you would be interested in participating in the workshop. Workshop participants need to be at least 18 years old.

I hope you will help us in our effort to map the distribution of these magnificent insects.

Herb Wilson teaches ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at:

whwilson@colby.edu

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