Monday, July 9, 2018

Review: WUNDERBIRD Birdwatching Clothing

Recently, the company Wunderbird approached us about their new line of clothing geared for birders. They offered to give us a couple of items in exchange for an unbiased review. We were intrigued and obliged to see if these items could really be useful for birders. We checked out their website and saw they have three basic items: a short sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, and a pullover hoodie sweatshirt. They have them for both men and women. And they have cool names: Kestrel, Peregrine, and Gyrfalcon (respectively).

Nick is actually in the market for a new sweatshirt, so we were excited about that prospect for him. We reviewed their size chart and found that the men’s sweatshirt sizes would not quite work for this long-armed guy. However, the sweatshirt dimensions worked great for me, so I (Maureen) ordered the women’s navy blue sweatshirt (Gyrfalcon), and Nick ordered the long-sleeved shirt (Peregrine) in blue/gray. The picture online looked like a light and dark blue combination, but it is really a light blue with gray sides.

Maureen’s Point of view: The hoodie is a really nice, sturdy fabric. It’s thick and soft and would definitely keep you warm. I tested it out on a cool morning for only a little while as it was not quite cold enough to really wear it around for long. The hoodie, like the other items, has two sets of zipper pockets – one across the chest and one lower in the belly area. But it also has the additional pouch to put your hands in (like a muff). 

The lower zipper could hold your binoculars in case of rain, even if you’re wearing a harness, or at least for me since I wear my bins pretty low on my harness to be able to hold my camera the way I want. I’m not very… ahem… well-endowed, so the top zipper pocket didn’t really bother me, but I could see that if you had more up top, this may render the pocket useless. I did have a bit of fun using it to hold my coffee mug. Otherwise, I do love having pockets since women’s clothing are notorious for not having any/enough/deep enough pockets. You could store small gadgets or snacks.

There is extra padding in the shoulders to give a bit of extra comfort for carrying heavy gear, like a tripod with a scope, or in my case, a heavier camera with a telephoto lens. I’m sure this could provide some relief, but since I did not wear the hoodie very long, I couldn’t tell you if there was a significant difference. Another feature is an adjustable cord in the back of the hood part to modify the hood to whatever level you like. This feature is common in good raincoats (living in the Pacific Northwest, I know what that is now), and I like it as it is helpful when you don’t want to really block your whole view with the hood, but still want to keep the hood on.

Nick’s Point of View: My preference would have been for getting a hooded sweatshirt, but I ran into a problem once we consulted the sizing chart. While I’m rather slender, I have long arms. Oddly (and this makes no sense) the sleeve length for the “XLL” hoodie is shorterthan on the “S” long-sleeved tee. On top of that, the sleeve lengths for the Men’s hoodies are even shorter than on the Women’s hoodies! So I ended up getting a long-sleeved tee instead purely because the measurements worked out. 

It was comfortable enough when I tried it on, but the main problem is that the padded shoulders don’t conform to one’s contours. In my case, it caused the neck to ride high and wonky. The material is fairly light, but the pockets make it look stiff as it hangs, as if I were draped in Kevlar. Maureen said it looks like a Star Trek uniform. She’s not wrong.

Who wore it best?

I haven’t used the pockets yet, and I’m still trying to figure out how best to. The stated purpose is for “Quick Draw binocular support”. But if quickly drawing your binoculars is important, then don’t put them in a pocket. Personally, I think they’d get more use storing our water bottle. Sometimes when we’re getting ready to hike we end up bringing a backpack with us, if only to hold water. If the water can fit comfortably in a pocket that would simplify things for us by reducing the total number of straps criscrossing our torsos.

Binoculars in their "Quick Draw" pouch

The padded shoulders are meant to help keep your tripod from grating against your bones while lugging your scope around. While they do provide more protection than an ordinary long-sleeved tee, the padding is less substantial than I expected – maybe about as much padding as you’d get from the average hoodie? When I switched from tripod to camera strap, it tugged the shirt to the side, making me acutely aware of the seam near the armpits, and chafed as I walked. Other features, such as the ventillating side panels will be great to wear once the temperature peaks, and it’s advertised as being mosquito repellant.

Thank you to Wunderbird for letting us sample their line of clothes. Quibbles aside, it’s great to know that manufacturers are paying attention to the unique problems faced by birders. We hope to see their product line expand in the future to accommodate birders of different proportions and styles. But kudos to Wunderbird for seeing an opportunity to help birders do what they do more comfortably.


Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: Far From Land

Some of the most indelible and exciting moments in our ten years of birding involve seeing groups of seabirds for the first time, particularly our first alcids and our first albatrosses. They’re so unlike anything found between the coasts, and they’re often away at sea, just out of reach unless you take the effort (and anti-nausea meds) needed to find them. Even in Oregon, where massive colonies render certain murres, guillemots, and puffins reliable for at least part of the year their lives at sea are shrouded in mystery. And that’s precisely the sort mystery that Michael Brooke wants to elucidate in Far From Land.

Far From Land is about how seabirds make their living when they’re not ashore, and crucially, how we know what we know. Brooke, who has spent his career studying seabirds, is fascinated by the technologies that have opened up all sorts of new research areas over the past 20 years. As such, this book is as much about the suite of devices that researchers use to interrogate every aspect of a seabird’s life at sea as it is about the birds themselves.

And some of those devices are very cool. Many birders will be at least passingly familiar with the geolocators, GPS, etc. used to track birds’ journeys. But you might not be aware of the devices that measure how deeply a bird dives; the temperature inside a bird’s stomach; whether the bird is in contact with water; or how widely a bird opens its beak. Each new device has helped researchers gain insight into the unique ways seabirds navigate, detect food, or catch prey.

In many ways, this book will help bring readers up to speed on the current state of research into seabirds’ lives at sea. However, this shouldn’t be mistaken for a general overview. This isn’t where you’re going to learn much about seabird physiology, courtship, nesting, or rearing young. Frustratingly, even seemingly relevant information is omitted if it happens not to be cutting-edge. For instance, here Brooke poses a problem and then chooses not to explain the solution:
“And who has not wondered how a tern copes with the flickering reflections bouncing off a sparkling sea as it plunged into the water to emerge from a spray of drips with a small sand eel? However, this variety of feeding techniques has been known from well before the advent of modern technology.” (p. 165)
This assumes a great deal of prior knowledge on the part of the reader. Far from being a popular treatment of seabirds’ lives, it’s more of a survey of the latest research within a particular range of topics. Typically this reads as a litany of findings from individual studies, rather than as a cohesive narrative.

But what you will learn is often astounding. Take Wandering Albatrosses, for example. By fitting them with magnetometers, researchers have discovered that they frequently spin in tight circles at night. It’s thought that they use their feet to stir up bioluminescent plankton, thereby attracting squid close enough to pluck out and eat. Because “seabird” is defined broadly, readers will learn about a diverse cast of birds, and it’s interesting to compare and contrast the strategies used by such divergent species as albatrosses, cormorants, and penguins.

Far From Land isn’t for everybody. Readers will want to have some prior familiarity with how seabirds live their lives before tackling it. But for anyone prepared for an in-depth treatment of how technology has transformed seabird study over the past 20 years, there is a wealth of information here to advance your understanding, and often, to prompt new questions about how a mysterious group of birds make their living at sea.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Siskiyou County Birding Bonanza­­­

California birding has been one of our favorite annual traditions over the four years we’ve lived out West. Last year we spent two weeks driving nearly the entire length and breadth of the state, and it was one of the best things we’ve ever done. More typically, we might spend a day exploring Lava Beds National Monument in Siskiyou County, one of our must-visit destinations whenever we’re in the Klamath-area for the Winter Wings Festival. We’ve written about Lava Beds in previous posts (here and here), and we’ve driven through Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to massive numbers of wintering waterfowl in February, when we’ve made it down in the past.

Song Sparrow

Lorquin's Admiral

Cinnamon Teal
Melissa Blue

With so much on our plate this summer, we were worried we might not have the chance to visit at all this year. You can guess our surprise and our excitement when we were offered the opportunity to take an expenses-paid birding trip to Siskiyou County, if we would write about our experiences here and for Discover Siskiyou. We were happy to oblige! So you’ll see a bit more of the non-nature aspects of our trip than we might otherwise share here, but the area really does have a lot to recommend, and we’re glad we can share it with you.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Red-tailed Hawk doing its best Napoleon impression

Cliff Swallow colony

Cliff Swallows

Since we’ve only visited Siskiyou in winter, this was the first time we’ve come around breeding time. We were excited to see what other great birds we could find. We planned a V-formation route down I-5 down to Lake Shasta, and then up US 97, and then east toward the Lower Klamath Basin and Tule Lake areas. We left nice and early to arrive just north of Yreka by mid-morning. We were a bit bummed that our first planned stop at the Randolph E. Collier rest area was closed for construction. However, across the Klamath River from the rest area was a place we could park and locate some birds. With our short stop, we picked up a singing Lazuli Bunting, some chatty Bullock’s Orioles, and a Lewis’s Woodpecker! This was the only stop on our route where we thought we might get one, so we felt lucky that we were able to get one from across the street.

Song Sparrow

Milbert's Tortoiseshell

Pacific Clubtail

We made our way to the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area, and another lucky spot was finding two Golden Eagles, a juvenile and an adult whose beautiful golden head was as clear as day as it soared in the sunlight and landed on a rocky hill. We had hoped to get Ash-throated Flycatcher, Great-tailed Grackle, Rock Wren, and Lark Sparrow, but were still happy to find Western Kingbird, Black-billed Magpie, and Yellow-headed Blackbird, as well as a lifer butterfly and some friendly lizards! As it was mid-day by then and the birds were quiet (and it was getting quite hot), we cooled down with a couple of beers at Etna Brewery & Taphouse and a hearty lunch.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Cabbage White

Purplish Copper

We pushed through the heat and forged ahead to Lake Shastina. We were delighted to find small islands dotting the lake with colonies of nesting Double-Crested Cormorants and Great Blue Herons. There were also plenty of American White Pelicans and Western Grebes. California Gulls (appropriate for where we were!), Ringed-Billed Gulls, and Forster’s Terns fed on the bountiful fish in the lake.

American White Pelicans

Western Grebe

Clark's Grebe -- 50% goofier-looking than Westerns

We headed to our lodging for the evening at the Mount Shasta Resort. Our lovely chalet was right off of Lake Siskiyou, and a nearby trail led into a coniferous wooded area. We took a little evening stroll before having a delicious meal at Café Madelena in the nearby town of Dunsmuir. The next morning was another early rise to walk the trail to see who would be singing the dawn chorus. We picked up Mountain Chickadee, Cassin’s Vireo, and an obliging, singing MacGillivray’s Warbler. We will definitely want to come back to this area and explore more, but we were on a mission!

Lake Siskiyou

View of Mt. Shasta from Lake Siskiyou

View of the Sacramento River from Box Canyon Dam

lupine sp.

We had a Red-breasted Nuthatch family right outside our chalet, including several fledglings

MacGillivray's warbler

Common Raven

Clover... but what's that on the leaf?

Eggs! Any ideas of what laid this cluster of perfect pink orbs?

After a scrumptious breakfast at Lilys Restaurant in the city of Mt. Shasta (and grabbing some BLTs and zucchini bread to go from Seven Suns Coffee and Café since there weren’t going to be any eateries along most of 97), we were off to the Grass Lake Rest Area along US 97. But to our surprise, it was also closed for repairs! We did not let that deter us as we found a pullout just up the road and used our scope to pick out Black Terns, which are known to be reliable at that spot. And since the pullout was actually at a trailhead into the Klamath National Forest, we took some time to poke around, and came out fruitful! We had a singing Western Tanager, Chipping Sparrows, a couple of Cassin’s Finches looking for nesting material, and an adorable Gray Flycatcher.

Cassin's Finch

Sagebrush and/or Western Fence Lizards

Next, we headed to Butte Valley Wildlife Area where raptors and shorebirds abound. A Bald Eagle cried in anguish as a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks continually harassed it. The auto tour ran alongside Meiss Lake, which held dozens of American Avocets, several Wilson’s Phalaropes, Black-necked Stilts, and Willets. The songs of LOTS of Marsh Wrens filled the reeds, with the occasional gulpy booms of American Bitterns, and the comical whinnies of Soras.

Bald Eagle getting mobbed by Red-tailed Hawks

Wilson's Phalarope

American Avocet

Black-necked Stilt

... and nest!

After one quick pause for paletas (Mexican popsicles) in Dorris to beat the heat, it was time to start heading to our next sleeping quarters for the night, but not without a few pit stops along SR 161. The lakes along this road are great for ducks and other water birds. We finally got our first White-Faced Ibis for the trip. As we pulled over at Sheepy Lake, part of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, there seemed to be a “highway” where the Ibis would fly across the border between Oregon and California. Squawking Caspian Terns and Forster’s Terns also flew back and forth.

White-faced Ibises

White-faced Ibis

Sandhill Crane

Caspian Tern

Forster's Tern

Forster's Tern getting ready to dive

We pulled over to a tiny hotspot (which we did not know was a hot spot at the time) after spotting some large unidentified bird frantically flying out of a tree and getting harassed by blackbirds. Lo and behold, it was a Great Horned Owl! The blackbirds forced him out and back from that tree a couple of times before he was able to settle down long enough for us to get a sneak peak at him from the car. A tasty meal of Chile Colorado and a large horchata at Señor Tequila capped off another successful day.

Great Horned Owl getting mobbed by blackbirds

Cyborg owl. Kill mode activated.

After a night in our basic lodging at Winema Lodge conveniently located near Tule Lake, we rolled out of bed and headed straight for the auto route around Tule Lake. We soon discovered that we were joined by BILLIONS if not trillions (in all seriousness) of midges! Just see for yourself in the video. Along the route, we could see columns that were just dense clouds of midges. Luckily, they didn’t bite, but the mosquito interlopers did. One thing I love about auto routes is that our car is a mobile blind. We were able to get great looks at Black-Crowned Night Herons, the one and only Snowy Egret we saw, a nicely perched bald Eagle, and hundreds of raucousy Tricolored Blackbirds.

Tule Lake

Black-crowned Night-heron

Snowy Egret

Eared Grebe

Franklin's Gull

Short-eared Owl! Right where John Kemper's Birding Northern California said we'd find one... not bad for a 20 year old book

We only had our first Tricolored Blackbirds earlier this year – about half a dozen on a back country road near us. California contains ~95% of the breeding population of these endangered birds, so seeing them in numbers like these was such a treat!

Female Tricolored Blackbird with nesting material

Male Tricolored Blackbird

Catching midges

"Look at me!!! My epaulets are better than anyone else's"

We ended our big Siskiyou County adventure with a big and yummy buffet brunch at Captain Jack’s Stronghold. Like that buffet, we had such a great variety of experiences in this relatively short trip. It was such a fantastic trip, and we know we’ll definitely be back. We are so glad that we were provided this opportunity to really explore Siskiyou County and all of the wonderful wildlife, birds, and variety of habitats it has to offer. We ended up with 110 species of birds, eleven types of mammals, a number of different butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies, and lizards! Add the tasty food and drinks, and it is an all around great travel destination for any birder or nature lover. Thank you to Discover Siskiyou for a tremendously fun weekend, and don't forget to visit to start planning your own birding adventure!

Bald Eagle