Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

A gang of Black-capped Chickadees have started visiting my feeders and sometimes they sit long enough for me to digiscope a few photos.

Here’s one of my better ones taken through our kitchen window with my Swarovski ATM 80 scope and Phone Skope adapter,IMG_0006

More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

Kathie’s Birds

An Interview with Kristen Marini on her new Birding Game

Kirsten Marini, in her second year of the Master of Environmental Science program at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, B.C., has developed a game to help train birders doing “point count” surveys on birds, and is looking for volunteers to test the training program.

The game consists of an initial challenge, then a set of smaller challenges of increasing difficulty, and a final challenge to see how much the birder has improved by the end. The birding game involves listening to a variety of bird songs during a five minute period, so you’ll need a media player such as a smartphone, laptop, or tablet.

If you want to play the game, email Kristen at kristen-marini AT mytru DOT ca and she’ll send you the full instructions on October 30th. The game officially starts on November 2nd and runs until mid-December.

I’m happy to have been able to interview Kristen for this post, and I hope you enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the game. Hopefully readers will be interested in helping Kristen by taking part in her study!

Prairie Birder: Tell me a little bit about yourself, please, including your studies.

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With my dads’ tame pigeon, this one is a couple years old but is a favourite of mine.

Kristen: I’m in my second year of the Master of Environmental Science program at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, B.C., studying how urbanization affects the reproductive success and song of Mountain Chickadees. For that, I spend the spring and early summer monitoring breeding chickadees in both urban and rural habitats, and measuring how well their offspring grow and survive. I also record males while they are singing during the dawn chorus to see how song changes in urban environments. I’ve only just started the analysis of my data, so I don’t quite know yet if chickadees are affected by urbanization.

At the same time I am working in partnership with Golder Associates to develop a distance estimation training program that they can use to improve both the species identification accuracy and distance estimation abilities of their employees who are doing bird point count surveys. This is what the bird game is ultimately for!

When I’m not at school working on one of these projects, I like going out hiking with my dachshunds, kayaking, and trying to learn how to rock climb!

These are some 6 day old mountain chickadee nestlings. We band them with a unique CWS band, then weigh and measure them every 3 days until they are 12 days old.

“These are some six-day old mountain chickadee nestlings. We band them with a unique CWS band, then weigh and measure them every three days until they are 12 days old.” (Photo courtesy Kristen Marini)

A 9 day old mountain chickadee nestling. By 9 days they are starting to look more like birds, their flight feathers are starting to erupt, and most of their body feathers are filling in. This little guy has a silver CWS band on his right leg so that we can re-identify him, and a PIT tag on his left leg so that we can track his movements.

“A nine-day old Mountain Chickadee nestling. By nine days, they are starting to look more like birds, their flight feathers are starting to erupt, and most of their body feathers are filling in. This little guy has a silver CWS band on his right leg so that we can re-identify him, and a PIT tag on his left leg so that we can track his movements.” (Photo courtesy Kristen Marini)

PB: How and when did you first become interested in birding?

Kristen: I’ve always been interested in nature and animals, doing lots of camping and hiking when I was growing up, but I only really became seriously interested in birding about four or five years ago. I started a research project with a really amazing professor at TRU, Dr. Matt Reudink, looking at how habitat influences colour in American Redstart feathers. Matt loves birds, and is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about them, it really got me interested in learning more about birds. The first time I held a bird, probably a little Mountain Chickadee, I was hooked and I knew I wanted to keep studying birds.

PB: For your current M.Sc. research project, you’ve developed a birding game to help birders sharpen their identification skills. How did you come up with this idea? How does the game fit into your research project?

Kristen: I created this birding game as part of a project I am working on for Golder Associates [a civil/geotechnical and environmental consulting corporation]. They were looking for ways to improve the distance estimation accuracy and species identification skills of their employees, so that when they are out doing point count surveys, they can be as accurate as possible. Initially, I came up with a training program consisting of two tests set up to simulate what a real point count would be like, and a training tape for volunteers to listen to. The results show that people did improve and become more accurate after training, but many volunteers had a hard time completing the training because it wasn’t very interactive or engaging.

So we came up with a game! There are still two tests, an initial test (to assess the baseline volunteers’ skills) and a final test at the end (to see how much they’ve improved by), but the training now consists of a set of small, themed challenges, that start off easy and become increasingly more difficult. As volunteers complete these challenges they will get personalized feedback, and maybe a few cheesy bird puns.

I’m hoping that by creating more game-like training, volunteers will be more engaged and motivated to compete against themselves and finish the game.

Kristen and a Cedar Waxwing that the volunteers at the Iona Beach banding station let me hold a couple weeks ago.

“With a Cedar Waxwing that the volunteers at the Iona Beach [BC] banding station let me hold a couple weeks ago.” (Photo courtesy Kristen Marini)

PB: Can anyone participate in the game, and how long should it take to play? Are there levels available for beginning birders, intermediate birders, and advanced birders?

Kristen: Anyone who is interested is welcome to participate! It is a bit of a challenge, I initially geared the overall difficulty level toward people who are fairly experienced birders doing point count surveys as part of their job, but I have had fairly inexperienced birders successfully complete the training. Because each birder is competing against themselves, there is no minimum experience requirement, I just ask that volunteers self-assess their skills before beginning and rank themselves as either a beginner, intermediate, or expert birder. The total time required to complete the game will vary with each birder, as each volunteer is instructed to train until they feel ready to move on. It could be from as little as 1.5 hours for someone who is already very comfortable with identifying birds by song, up to around six or eight hours for someone who is less experienced.

PB: You’re targeting boreal forest species, and Canada Warbler and Olive-sided Flycatcher, in the game. Can you tell us why you’re focusing on these species?

Kristen: Many of the point counts are being conducted by Golder are in the boreal forests of northern Alberta, so these species were chosen to be representative of what their employees would encounter while out conducting a point count survey.

A mountain chickadee that we just finished banding.

A Mountain Chickadee that we just finished banding. (Photo courtesy Kristen Marini)

PB: How will you analyze the results at the end of the study period?

Kristen: At the end of the study, I will basically be looking at two main things: how did species identification accuracy change and how did distance estimation accuracy change? By comparing each volunteer’s score before and after training, I will be able to assess how the skills of each volunteer changed, as well as how each skill class (beginner, intermediate, or expert) changed overall.

Based on the results from the first time I tried this, what I’m expecting to see is that after training birders will be able to correctly identify more species as well as estimate the distances to these species more accurately.

PB: Do you think you might turn the game into an app or computer program?

Kristen: This is something that we talked about doing, but with the time line and budget for my project, turning it into an app or online game just wasn’t feasible.

Thank you, Kristen, for telling us more about your project. As a reminder, for anyone interested in helping Kristen test the program, please contact her by Friday, October 30th at kristen-marini AT mytru DOT ca

Remembering Owler #1

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Mr. Cromie holding a Great Grey Owl

The Alberta birding community lost a great naturalist and birder over the weekend.

Ray Cromie was a retired Sherwood Park school teacher and vice principal. He studied owls in northern Alberta for many years and in the 1980s he became a master owl bander.

I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Cromie, but many birders across the province had the chance to learn from his extensive knowledge about birds, especially owls.

Gerald Romanchuk, a member of the Edmonton Nature Club (ENC) posted this thoughtful piece on the Albertabird listserv and ENC Discussion Group remembering Mr. Cromie:

Ray was a long-time and very beloved member of the Edmonton Nature Club. He was a recipient of the club’s Edgar T. Jones Conservation Award and Nature Alberta’s Loren Gould Award.

Ray was probably best known as a owl and raptor bander. He banded thousands of owls over the years. Many Edmonton-area birders were lucky to experience Ray’s generosity. Hundreds of us saw lifers of several hard-to-find owl species directly because of Ray’s guidance.

Besides being an expert on owls, Ray was a very knowledgeable all around naturalist. He could just as easily talk to you about warblers, or butterflies, or plants, as the nesting habitat of Saw-whet Owls.

Ray was a tireless volunteer. He was always giving presentations to all sorts of groups. He led countless owling field trips for the ENC. The trips were always very popular. Folks got to get an up close look at the whole procedure of finding, catching, processing, and banding birds like Great Gray and Hawk Owls. His owl display at the club’s annual Snow Goose Chase was always a big hit with all the children.

But more importantly than any owls was the way Ray showed us, by shining example, how to be a great leader, mentor, and teacher. And how to be a good, generous person. And he did it all with an awesome and charming sense of humour.

If you’d like to learn a little more about Mr. Cromie, he was featured in an article from 2005 in the Edmonton Nature News, which can be found here

My deepest sympathies to Mr. Cromie’s family and friends. He will be missed by many.

Prairie Birder’s 5th Anniversary!

My blog turned five years old yesterday! It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing here for such a long time.

I started Prairie Birder when my family was in the Caribbean for an extended visit, and since then it’s been such a handy platform to share my photos, stories, and connect with other birders across the world. I’ve had some wonderful opportunities through blogging and I’d like to thank all of my readers for their support and encouragement. I’d also like to thank my mom for all her support, and inspiration, especially for getting me started with the blog.

For any newer readers, there are lots of posts in the archives — more than 650 posts from my home in Alberta, and also from my travels to the Caribbean, New York, Washington, DC, Ontario, France, and Germany.

I can’t wait to share my future adventures, so here’s to the next five years!

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Prairie Birder in Germany last January.

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

The American Goldfinches have left for the year and have been replaced at the feeders by Pine Siskins — and hopefully Redpolls later this winter.

A male American Goldfinch,IMG_8867 IMG_8866

More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

Kathie’s Birds

Phone Skope Adapter: First Impressions

:: I received a Phone Skope adapter from the company for review; all opinions and writing are my own ::

Even before I got my new iPhone — in September, my first ever cell phone — I was researching digiscoping adapters to use with it and my Swarovski scope. Over the past few years, I’d seen lots of good reviews of the Phone Skope adapter, so I contacted them about their adapters.

Phone Skope specializes in making adapters for digiscoping on a variety of phones and scopes/binoculars; you make your selection based on the smart phone and scope/binocular you have. The eyepiece adapters and cases come in several sizes, so you can choose the correct model for your phone and optics. If you can’t find the correct sizing, custom models are available. Tim at Phone Skope was very helpful and generously shipped out an adapter to me last week to review. I’ve been testing it out and enjoying it very much.

The adapter consists of two parts, the case and the eyepiece adapter. Your phone just slides into the snug-fitting plastic case, then twist-lock the two pieces together and slide it onto your scope or binoculars. It’s that easy!

I keep my phone in a Lifeproof Frē case at all times to make sure it stays safe; I waited a long time to get a cell phone and I spend a lot of time outdoors, so I’m not taking any chances. In order to use the adapter I have to take my phone out of its case. Compared to some other adapters I’ve seen, the Phone Skope adapter does provide some protection for the phone if it’s dropped, which is a top priority for me. I also like that the adapter fits tightly on the scope’s eyepiece. It would take quite some force to knock the adapter off the scope, so I feel comfortable leaving the phone sitting on the eyepiece.

I went on a Sunday afternoon drive to test out the Phone Skope. It was very windy, so it was impossible to keep my scope motionless. However, I’m very happy with the photos I got. So far, I really enjoy the Phone Skope adapter and can’t wait until the Spring to use it to its full potential.

But I’m going to keep testing it and am planning to write more posts on the adapter as I perfect my digiscoping skills.

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter,  and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

For digiscoping, I use my ATM 80mm Swarovski scope with 20 – 60 zoom eyepiece. I twist the eye cup most of the way as it reduces the vignetting (the black circle around the photos). You can get rid of the vignetting by cropping the photo in iPhoto if you like.

Here’s an un-cropped photo of Canada Geese,

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

Coming in for a landing,

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

Tundra Swans,

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

I found this young Bald Eagle sitting in a dead tree on my drive. I really like this photo, with the eagle taking off,

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Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

We were at my grandparents’ house on Monday for Canadian Thanksgiving and outside the kitchen window is a Mayday tree which the birds really enjoy. I saw Black-capped Chickadees, an Orange-crowned Warbler, and this Golden-crowned Kinglet,

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More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

Kathie’s Birds