Sunday, November 30, 2014

East Asian Trash Birds (East Asia #3)

There are branch birds. There are stone birds. But the very worst are trash birds. All across the globe, birders are being fooled by bright pieces of plastic and those awful stretchy plastic bags. But the real Trash Birds are no joke. They're stunning enough to fool birders into passing them off as yet another normal trash bird. To be admitted into the Trash Bird League is a great honor among the avian.


Not trash. Not even close.

Taiwan has a decent amount of Real Trash Birds, more than California, anyway, where all the Trashiest birds are vagrants. To get into the real heart of bird trashiness, a trip to Papua New Guinea, South Africa, or some other place with an innumerable amount of bright, shiny, birds is required.

Grey-chinned Minivet (Taiwan). From this trashy photo, this Grey-chinned Minivet looks like a plastic bag. In the field, these guys are orange enough to burst a fire extinguisher into flames. Even the females are strangely un-drabby. 

Long, azure, iridescent tail = bird trash points. The beauty of Azure-winged Magpies is coupled when you consider that they often hang out with Red-billed Blue-magpies (Beijing area). Remember those? 

You can't get tired of Azure-winged Magpies. They (and Eurasian Tree Sparrows) will inhabit areas other birds refuse to touch. If you pour what looks like a giant heap of dandruff next to a sewer opening, Azure-winged Magpies will eat it. 

Everyone knows Hoopoes, even anti-twitchers. They're called "she niao," in Chinese, or Snake Bird, because of their frequent predation of snakes. Extra trash points for bird badassery. 


CLICK HERE FOR EAST ASIA #4 (Oh right. I haven't written it yet.)

The Most Boring Birding Post You'll Ever Read

There's only one thing worse than getting sand in your binoculars, and that's having to leave a bird unidentified, which can happen if you get sand in your binoculars. In my case, I left not a potential hour bird, not a potential daybird, but a potential lifer unidentified because I forgot a scope, and it happens to be hard to identify a small murrelet about one mile out to sea while it's raining.

Elegant Terns, for lack of any better distant bird photo to put on here. 

Actually, I don't even have a scope. Last time I looked at quality scopes, all of them cost over $1500. Teenage birders dare not ask their parents for anything above $500, especially if it's another piece of equipment used to look at birds with, when "binoculars are fine."

So today, I write a post about birding equipment. Yes, birding equipment. Could you imagine anything more boring? Birders definitely can.

"Yo, I just got  the Kowa TSN-821 M-Angled Spotting Scope. It's waterproof to JIS Protection Class 7! It has a MFD of 6m. Imagine that! It also has a 82mm lens too. I was going to buy a Kowa TSN 820 M model but it cost 10 million dollars!"

"Dude, I have a Kowa TSN 820 M model. It's awesome. It has a QWOIUOIRU of 10298098 and also a 1091090 MROI. How awesome is that?"

Of course, this conversation is a little exaggerated, because most birders aren't "cool" enough to say "Dude," and "Yo,"



A birder without a camera is nowadays considered a birder unarmed with the necessary Equipment For Vagrant Proof. The situation is now so bad that people will not believe in sightings of Brown Creepers on local listservs across Southern California. It is hard to fight this growing wave of Slightly-Uncommon-Rare-Bird cynicism syndrome. It's a lot easier to just go with the flow and buy a cheap P&S camera. It will be worth it.

Because Brown Creepers are so hard to identify.


Bird photography is an immensely complicated thing, and attempting to give a crash course on it might end up sounding like the conversation a few paragraphs above. If all you want is to be armed with Equipment For Vagrant Proof, there's not going to be information of much use here.

10-Minute CRASH COURSE Bird Photography

Aperture- The lower the aperture value on your camera, the more pleasing background you'll get. You'll also get a faster shutter speed. People argue a lot about what aperture is best for bird photography. Ignore those people. Experiment around with your camera and see what produces the best photos.

ISO- High ISO results in faster shutter speed but a noisier photo. You only really want to jam the ISO up where low lighting and how much of your camera is zoomed out make the shutter speed impossibly slow.

Shutter Speed- Exactly what it sounds like.

Angle- Get to the eye level of your bird. For example, if I saw a Sora in a muddy field, I would lie down right on my belly to get eye level to the bird. If I saw a Bald Eagle on a cliff, I would scale an equally tall tree right next to the cliff to get eye level to the bird. What you're willing to do depends on how crazy you are. May be fatal.

Recommended Models: Under $400: Canon SX50, Nikon P510


What do you put as a picture for a section of binoculars? I don't know, so I just picked a random one. 

The binoculars are the best method for identifying birders. Most birders utilize the Binocular Cost system.  If you don't have binoculars, you're a nonbirder. If your binoculars don't cost above $100, you are a birdwatcher. If you have Leicas, then you're a twitcher. If you don't know what a twitcher is, but you have binoculars above $100, you're a birdwatcher.  It's as simple as that.


All you really need to know is that 8X42 binoculars are the best, give or take a couple digits on both those numbers. The details on what these numbers mean and blah blah blah are only of use when you run out of interesting topics to discuss with your fellow birders, and have to resort to long and boring conversations about binoculars to hold the awkward-ness back.

Recommended Models: There are so many excellent, cheap binoculars on the market that a quick google search will find you a decent model


This Alcidaegaviapodicepidae Unidentifiablus would maybe become an Ancient Murrelet, and be added nicely to my life list, if I had a scope. 


If you dislike leaving distant birds unidentified, which is every birder (and if you don't mind leaving distant birds unidentified you're a birdwatcher and probably have binoculars under $100), than a spotting scope is a must. Unfortunately, spotting scopes are large, cumbersome, and make birders look even nerdier than they already do. This is OK if you're a birder. It's worth getting that extra daybird, or even a lifer.


There are two basic scope models, angled and straight. Most birders prefer angled scopes (myself included).

 A good tripod is a must for a scope. Using a scope without a tripod is almost guaranteed to make you throw up, or at least give the impression of riding in a concrete mixing truck.

Recommended Model: Under $400: Bushnell Spacemaster Under $700: Viper Vortex  (Angled)


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Not-so-good Pics of Good Birds (East Asia #2)

SHAMELESS CROSS-POST-PROMO: Click here for Episode 1 of East Asia

Taiwan has not zero, not 1.5, but two endemic species of Scimitar-babblers, an astonishing fact when you consider that 99% of ABA birders think a Scimitar-Babbler is a virus you pick up in African deserts, where scimitar-babblers conveniently do not exist.

 This Taiwan Scimitar-babbler was too busy babbling to notice the creature with two small eyes and one big glassy one quietly encroaching on it.

Another endemic species, the subtly beautiful, skulky, Taiwan Whistling-thrush. The most notable thing about this bird is -- you didn't guess it--- its plumage (HA! You thought I was going to say call, didn't you) which changes from this dank and stodgy dark blue to an eclectic electric in the right angle.
Unfortunately, although they're streamside feeders, they do not possess the awesome ability of feeding like a dipper.

Taiwan Blue-Magpie

I demand you to click on this photo and revel in the splendor of this beauty. Look at the length of that tail. Just look at it, for fulmar's sake. If it wasn't for the lack of iridescence on that thing, it would surely be up in the top charts with Resplendent Quetzal.

Also, it's endemic to Taiwan, and with complete disregard for the Corvid Rule #384 (which states that if a bird is a corvid, it's going to be common to the point of annoyance), it's only locally viewable.

Oh wait. You thought the line of gorgeous blue magpies was over? (Note: none of these photos are mine, the link to the original source is hyperlinked in the caption)

Yellow-billed Blue Magpie again, just for effect

It's not an Urocissa, but let's throw in the American Black-throated Magpie Jay into this jam.

Creature Feature: Obsessed With Those Long Tails? 

Perhaps even more crippling in the long tail department is the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, which unfortunately I dipped on.

  But wait, it doesn't end there. Check out this post for more long-tailed goodness.  

The line of jaw-droppingly beautiful birds in not over. Meet the Taiwan Barbet. This photo does no justice to the remarkable greenness of these guys. The resulting color from mixing two buckets of lime peels, neon lime paint, and solid green gummy bears couldn't compare to how awesome Taiwan Barbets look in the field. So how about yet another photo that isn't mine?

Babble babble,

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Piece of Taiwan (East Asia Trip Report August #1)

The bird to the left of you is majestically called a Gray Treepie, or a Slate Foilage Pastry as I affectionately dubbed it.

Many of you know about my trip to East Asia. Many of also, no doubt, do not anticipate the trip report and have probably forgotten about it seconds after I mentioned it.

To make a short story long, I tried writing a trip report complete with humour, excellent bird photography and detailed information, but it took about seven hours to write the first day and it soon occurred to me that in the time I was taking to write the trip report I could have seen three yearbirds and maybe a Western Screech-Owl.

This is first in what will be a long and lengthy series of EA posts. Enjoy! 

Don't let the amusing name of the Himalayan Black Bulbul fool you.  Black Bulbuls are one of those deceptively evil birds that fool innocent birders into believing greater and rarer birds are at hand. Then when you actually put your binos up the bird and find out it's another freaking BBB, they squeak at you in a sinister way and say "Haha sucker! No Red-billed Choughs for you!"

Oriental Turtle-doves are clueless and innocent birds. Everyone adores them except for seeds and insects. Just looking into the face of a ORTD will clear all your birdfail sins for the month. 

A Red Turtle-dove. The only thing notable about this particularly one is that it seems to be standing very precariously in a  dangerous Space-Time vortex and could be sucked in any moment. Who knew RTDs were such daredevils (Seriously, what is with that wall? )?

Black-winged Stilts were scattered throughout rice paddies in Southern Taiwan. How its knees do not suddenly and rapidly cave in is a mystery to me. 

Green Sandpipers are delightful birds, but not when they're seen in a heavily cropped picture at full zoom and ISO8000.  

A beautiful hot, humid, sweaty, mosquito-ridden suburban Taiwan Park.

If you look hard enough, you can find a Kentish Plover in this picture, something an ABA-er would go cuckoo over back at home despite its very drab plover-ness. Ten bucks to whoever can find it in under five minutes.

Striated Swallows are likable birds. They take long resting periods, which means you can actually procure decent views of them without binos. Not exactly a prime photo but I like the background boards on this one. They're very board-y. 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Birds and Sound: Part One

My brother's pic.

This time, I would get up early. I had resolved myself to get up at 4:30 in the morning so I could go birding and still make it on time to my friend's brother's aunt's sister's birthday party (not really).
Of course, I was hoping to get up at this ludicrous hour so I could study mimicry in California Thrashers at Whiting Ranch, out of curiosity, noble scientific state of mind, and the fact that it would be a cool post on my blog.

Around 2:00 a mockingbird said "Forget about thrashers! Mockingbirds are better," and started partaking in a one-bird rock concert. It finally shut up. Albeit a couple hours later.

At first, this noisy-neighbor-like behavior of mockingbirds was a great annoyance, but then I got to thinking, "Hey, at least I don't live in an area with Common Mynahs!" because Common Mynahs apparently have a screech-like call that turns you temporarily into a zombie, or something  like that anyway.

Mynahs (as a genus) reside only in a few tiny patches in the ABA area anyway, the kind of tiny patch that takes an hour and a magnifying glass to be found on a map. And then, not very long ago, a car rolled over the last countable  Mynah in the ABA area, freeing everyone in the area from the Mynah Zombie Curse.

So there you have it. I haven't found out anything new about thrasher mimicry but here's a cool (I hope) blog post and a few annoying sounds to go with it.

Disclaimer: I do not intend to hurt or permanently emotionally scar any birds with this post. If you are a very sensitive bird, do not read this post. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, AVES.

Videos may not show up on an iPad.  

Category One: Annoying

 European Starling 

Why it's annoying: constant squeaky scratchy squealing

 An accurate description of a starling "song" is a tiny cat being repeatedly trodden by an elephant. Multiply that by 50 and you have an idea of what a murmuration of starlings sounds like (HA! A murmuration of starlings? Good one).

Despite their sound being inherently annoying, the mechanics behind a starling flock are actually pretty fantastic. 

Listen to a recording of starlings that will make your ears bleed here.


 Eastern Koel 

 Why it's annoying: Incessant whistling during the early hours of the morning

An Eastern Koel, or a Common Koel as you Oldsquaws call it (#jokesonlybirdsget), is a cuckoo that appears frequently throughout Eurasian habitats. Think Bronzed Cowbird, except with a more-cuckoo like shape. 

This is a bird that has caused many to tear out their earlobes with its incessant poowah whistles. One option is to go outside and yell, " KOEL-SWHERE!" and hopefully the bird will be amazed by how awesome your pun is and leave.

To simulate the effects of the calls of the Eastern Koel, set the below video's audio track as an alarm at 2:00. Also make sure that it is played at full volume and cannot be turned off.

Little Wattle Bird 

Why it's annoying: Incessant calling during the early hours of the morning. Loud, obnoxious, raspy call. Having the name Little Wattle Bird, which is a particularly annoying name (I know this is a sound competition, and it's a human's fault,  but I had to mention it).

The Little Wattle Bird is a sleek brown honeyeater that will make you wish it had never been born.
Unlike Koels, the Little Wattle Bird has no sense of humor as honeyeaters do, so yelling "Go away and wattle with the penguins with Antarctica," will have no effect on it (partly because that's a horrible pun).

Category Two: Loudest

Three-wattled Bellbird

Apparently you can hear a Three-wattled Bellbird from three miles away, landing it in the official Wow, How Onearthdoesthatbird MakE A Super Unusual, Raucous, Exponential, Stupendous, Terribly Happy, Interesting, Splendid, Sock-your-rocks off, Terribly Unique, Fabled, Feared, Astouding, Not Yucky, Wowzers, Amplified, Yodel-like sound Bird Sound Club, or WHO MEASURES THIS STUFF ANYWAY ???????for short.

The awesome sound of the Three-wattled Bellbird is used as a deadly weapon against territorial intruders. Have you ever been sleeping, and it's all nice, and then someone yells in your ear? Amplify that by 30X.


Category Three: Most Versatile Voice

Superb Lyrebird

If you thought that annoying 2 AM-singing mockingbird was an impressive mimic (and I'll admit, I've been fooled by that guy multiple times. Once I got  hyped up to the point of self-discovered-Code-7 because I thought there was a Pygmy-owl in my suburban yard), meet the Superb Lyrebird.

If this bird was named Superb Lyrebird centuries ago when lyres were the most versatile instruments around, it should be renamed Holyfreakingawesome GarageBand© Bird because that's a perfect summation of the extent of its abilities.

It's imitated construction building sounds, chainsaws, and cameras. Next thing you know, it'll be the next big pop star in Oceanic music.

Category Four: Most Beautiful


Wood thrushes, as you avid blog readers no doubt know, are a favorite bird of mine because of their haunting, beautiful songs.

Note: After some extensive research on wood thrush voice box use, it has been found, to my not-so-profound disappointment, that there is a pathetic amount of papers regarding how the sound of wood thrushes are produced. The ones I have amassed seem to have a vast amount of contradictions to other articles. I seek to finally relay this travesty in a future post. There will be a lot of text, and maybe even a bibliography.  You have been warned.  

Wood Thrush

First, I would like to debunk a myth I put in my post back in the ancient month of September 2014.

I could just scream at myself, but instead I think I'll play the call of the koel bird fifty times at full volume.

EVERY SINGLE BIRD has a syrinx. EVERY BIRD'S syrinx has a double voice box. I received this false knowledge from goodness-knows-where.

The post moves on.

Hermit Thrush 

Coming This Month:

Bird Palettes
The Science of Thrush Songs

plus a bunch of other posts

Hope you enjoyed this post.

Comments are appreciated!!


If you would like a "Birds and Sound: Part Two" and other "Birds and ________ "posts PLEASE comment because I would like to know if you like this kind of post!