29 January 2008

An Aid to Birdstackers

I apologize in advance for what may be a very technical post. A brand-spanking new FREE listing website is now available to birders: Birdstack. Like I said, it's new, so there may be some adjusting for new users, but I'm game. It was the first time I was able to register on a site under my own name not myownname47 or something. What I like about Birdstack is its RSS feed to your lifelist (check out my sidebar--I haven't uploaded all my sightings yet, so what's on there now is not my completed lifelist), and the fact that unlike eBird it's a worldwide listing website (not that I've ever birded out of the US, but you never know...). Things I don't like about it are the fact that you can't enter multiple birds at once and its painstaking upload process. I mean, one species at a time? really? Anyways, I don't know if anyone wants or needs this information, but here are the steps that I've found to be the least complicated to transfer sightings from eBird to Birdstack. Disclaimer: I'm not sure how this will work for everyone, I use a Mac running OS 10.2.8, I think most calculators are more advanced than my computer now. I'm lucky enough to have a copy of Microsoft Excel for Mac, otherwise I'm not sure if I could do this through AppleWorks. Update: I just checked, my AppleWorks 6.2.4 won't open the spreadsheet file from eBird. Maybe newer versions do. My apologies if I seem to spell out each little step, but in the chance that someone doesn't know "Copy" and "Paste" yet, I put that in here. Everyone's gotta learn sometime, right? Okay, here we go:

1) Sign on to eBird, and click on "My eBird". On the right-hand side, click on "Manage My Observations". All your observations should come up. If you want to show all, by all means click on "Show All". A minor point, Birdstack's RSS lifelist only goes by the observation most recently entered, apparently, NOT by the date you enter on the submission. So if you want to be anal about how your lifelist appears on an RSS feed (guilty) click on "Date" in eBird until your very first observation is on the top line, and transfer all the data chronologically.

2) Most eBird observations don't take up a lot of space, but transferring each one individually takes a lot of time, so I've been transferring one-month chunks. You can use your discretion as to how many you want to transfer. Note, there is a limit on file size once we get to the Birdstack side of things, so don't go too crazy. eBird's files tend to be ~ 4kb, or at least mine are, if you want to use that as a guide. Still on "Manage My Observations"? Go to the first one and click "View or edit". Once there, click "Download report". Repeat the downloading process for as many observations as you like. You're done with the eBird end!

3) Open up one of the downloaded reports. You'll get a spreadsheet with a bunch of columns and your recognizable data. Now we have to move the data from the other downloaded observations to this one. Open up the next report and highlight the first box under "Species" should be box A2. Drag the highlight down to the last species in column A and then to the right to either column E "Observation date" or column F "Start time" if there's anything in column F. You should have a rectangle highlighted now. Hit control-C or Apple-C or go up to the Edit menu and click on "Copy". Close this report. Go to the first report (you can keep it open in the back this whole time) and click on the first empty box in column A. Hit Control-V or Apple-V or go up to the Edit menu and click on "Paste". Repeat the copy and paste steps for each other report. At the end, you should have your first report with a lot of columns, and every other report with only the first five or six columns all on one spreadsheet.

4) Now we have to manipulate the spreadsheet into something that Birdstack will recognize. Column A "Species" needs to be renamed "English name", without the quotes, though. "Number reported" becomes "Number observed". (Thanks to drewweber on the Birdstack forums, any field with an X in it is all set to be uploaded to Birdstack now.) Skip over "Location" to "Observation type" and click on the D above it. This should highlight the whole column. Go up to Edit and click on Delete. That should move the other columns over one (E becomes D, F becomes E, etc.). New column D, "Observation date", needs to be renamed "MDY date", which stands for Month-Day-Year. Again, click on the D at the top of the column, and go up to the Format menu and click Cells (this step might be different for Windows users). A little window should pop up with a menu of items to choose from, you want "Date". A new menu, will pop up, scroll to the entry that looks like 02/28/2008, or MM/DD/YYYY, and click on it. All of the dates in that column should automatically change to that format. The next column, "Start time" needs to be changed to "12-hour time". Any entries with a "N/A" in it will have to be changed so that it's blank. Click on the word "Duration" at the top of the next column and drag down to the bottommost entry, then right to last column that has anything in it, so that you get another big rectangle. Go up to Edit and then Clear the contents. The last step to prepare the spreadsheet: go to File, then Save As, and then Format "CSV" (maybe with the phrase "comma delimited"). Hit Save, quick!

?) Phew! I forgot what number I was on. Now go to Birdstack and register, if you haven't, or sign on, if you aren't. Click "Record an observation", then "import observations in bulk". Click "upload a file" and then Browse the folder for your spreadsheet from the last step, which should end in ".csv". If everything went well, after you hit Continue your screen will say "Validate file and continue". If something's still wrong, it will give you an error in red, perhaps something like "column not recognized: start time". In that case you need to open your .csv file and change whatever the problem is. Once everything's fixed (believe me, I went through this a lot: that's why I thought I might post instructions) and validated, you'll get a list of each species on the spreadsheet. Click "Save and continue". Every recognized species is now added to your Birdstack account. If you have any species it questions (European Starling, e.g., or any eBird spuhs) it will be in green and you'll have to click on it to correct it. In the case of the starling, Birdstack recognizes a different common name, the Common Starling. In the case of any spuhs ("Lesser/Greater Scaup" or "buteo sp."), Birdstack doesn't recognize them and you'll just have to delete them. And guess what? You're done!

Again, I apologize for the length of the directions. I just tried a dry run of another month's worth of data, and it only took about five minutes. Once all the observations are in you can edit the location in Birdstack or whatever else you'd like. Of course, Birdstack is changing a lot since it's the beginning, these directions will probably be obsolete in another few hours, but I hope it helps someone.

Robert Bridges

Okay, not Bird Lit, but considering that the reason I'm not birding on my day off today is because of the snow on the ground and the fact that I don't have any suitable boots (my own damn fault) this poem kind of fits. It also supports my working theory that for the first twelve hours or so a fresh snowfall is a beautiful, enjoyable thing, and then it just gets to be a pain in the ass. This poem's about the first twelve hours.

London Snow

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled--marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.
Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,
'O look at the trees!' they cried, 'O look at the trees!'
With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul's high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.
For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.

25 January 2008

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning's minion, King-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee ten, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

(photo from wikipedia)

17 January 2008

One Down, Forty-four to Go

Yesterday I was able to visit my first Mass Audubon Sanctuary on my quest to visit all 45. I went to the Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary for a couple of hours. Visiting new places by myself, as I've noted and will note again, is kind of worrisome.

Allens Pond
Ashumet Holly
Blue Hills
Boston Nature Center
Broad Meadow Brook
Canoe Meadows
Cook's Canyon
Daniel Webster
Drumlin Farm
Eagle Lake
Eastern Point
Felix Neck
Flat Rock
Graves Farm
High Ledges
Ipswich River
Joppa Flats
Lake Wampanoag
Laughing Brook
Lime Kiln Farm
Lincoln Woods
Long Pasture
Marblehead Neck
Moose Hill
Nahant Thicket
Nashoba Brook
North Hill Marsh
North River
Oak Knoll
Pierpoint Meadow
Pleasant Valley
Road's End
Rutland Brook
Sampsons Island
Sesachacha Heathlands
Skunknett River
Stony Brook
Visual Arts Center and Mildred Morse Allen Wildlife Sanctuary
Wachusett Meadow
Wellfleet Bay

15 January 2008

One Part Bleach, Nine Parts Water

I have to take my feeders down and clean them: Illness has struck. I saw a female House Sparrow with what looked like an eye infection in one of her eyes. I even have to take my suet feeder down because it has seeds mixed in and some of the HOSPs will hop over and eat some occasionally. Now as far as I know, HOSPs don't get House Finch Eye Disease (Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis), but it doesn't mean they don't get other diseases. Even if it was an injury and not an illness, it's probably better to disinfect the feeders as a precaution. I wasn't able to snap off a picture of the affected bird, unfortunately, to see if anyone could say what it was she had. Oh well.

13 January 2008

A New Goal

Around this time of year, apparently, many members of the birding community try to decide what kind of Year they're going to have. Many of those decide on the Big Year, with the magic number placed at 300. As much as this past year has made me appreciate how much effort would go into attempting a Big Year (much less succeeding), and as supportive I am of the Bigby subset of Big Years, I have decided to eschew that lofty goal--at least for this year. For one, I don't think I'm qualified to safely identify 300 different bird species yet. I've had to leave a few behind this past year simply because I am inexperienced. For two, I can't seem to wash out the taste of perhaps being called by some merely a lister. My love for lists notwithstanding, a Big Year seems extraneous to me, at least while I'm still cutting my teeth: it would be pretty ballsy of me to say I'm going to see 300 species when I've only cracked 125. To add another 175 notches to my belt isn't the same as setting out to explore new places and finding another, say, 50 lifers. So my new goal, not to be accomplished in a year, is to visit all of the Mass Audubon Society Sanctuaries open to the public (there are currently 45). I ostensibly started birding to get out of the house more, and what better way than to explore different parts of my home state that have been set aside and preserved precisely for that goal? Ultimately I think I will find this a rewarding adventure, perhaps more rewarding than chasing after rarities that occasionally show up--though I'm certainly not against the occasional birdchase. I have already tried to keep a tally of the trips I've made to my hometown's conservation land, which is controlled by The 300 Committee, I might even try to make visiting those open parcels another goal of mine. While each species I've seen has given me a rush, the surprising benefit of this past year has been my growing familiarity with my community. Wish me luck!

06 January 2008

Last Year and This Year

Is there a grace period on how far into the new year you can post your previous year-end review?

Guess what I got for Christmas? Around the end of November I decided I didn't want new binoculars as a gift because the little Nikon Travelite I had worked fine. I'm glad my parents didn't listen (or hear, who knows?) because my new Swarovski set works great. I was amazed at the difference and how I had to refamiliarize myself with old birding spots simply because I could see more of them. The difference in overall clarity--especially color--is amazing, it makes quite an impact on the frequent cold gray winter New England days. My grand-uncle, who is on the board of the Mass. Audubon Society, was able to steer my folks toward the SLC 8 x 30. Thanks Uncle John!

I also received another gift Christmas morning, regretfully before I received my binoculars: a lifer! A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker right outside my parents' window! That brought my Life Total to 124, my Year Total to 120, and my Mass Life and Year Totals to 105. You can bet after I opened my binocs I just looked out the window the rest of the day trying to see the YBSA. If I had been able to see a Hairy Woodpecker, I would have had a great Picid bingo, since I got a Downy, a Northern Flicker, and a Red-bellied throughout the rest of the day. The Hairy would've been the fourth of the common ones, and the YBSA would make a more uncommon five-picid bingo. Oh well, I still had a great Christmas.

The New Year also got off to a great start. The first bird of the year was a Song Sparrow, which was good because I just assumed it would be one of the billions of House Sparrows that come to our feeder. Rather than sleep in, I thought I would quickly go to a couple of nearby spots to start off my 2008 list. I ended up with 24 species on the day and was able to expand the species lists of a few of my favorite spots. All in all a wonderful holiday season.

04 January 2008

Gerard Manley Hopkins

‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme’

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This might be my favorite poem, despite my agnosticism and despite my reluctance to describe something as absolutely as my favorite. And even though it isn't about birds, it all starts with a kingfisher.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia
poem courtesy of Bartleby