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California Quail

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What Bird  |   iBird Lite  |   "Birdy" Podcasts  |   Bird Blogs  |   Lists and Listers

Lists and Listers

This fifth article, from the December 2018 Quail, describes how email bird sighting lists work, and why some birders prefer Alerts.

Email lists for reporting bird sightings actually predate the World Wide Web. A natural evolution of phone messages and telegrams, they provided avid birders ( not to be confused with rabid birders, which tend to be small fur-bearing mammals at risk for extinction) a means of rapidly communicating the arrival of interesting species in interesting places. They still serve that purpose today.

Most modern email sightings lists have gained a broader following, including beginning birders, regular reports from someone's favorite "patch", and an opportunity for out-of-towners to find out what they're likely to see in a region, and not just what's new or noteworthy. Your columnist did the latter prior to a visit to Alaska, and ended up with an even deeper respect for ravens than previously.

The earliest lists were simple, homespun affairs, managed using off-the-shelf programs that ran on whatever online server was available. The MDAS East Bay Birding list (EBB_Sightings) started in 1998 as the East Bay Birders Circle discussion group, merged with our chapter’s website-based group in 2004, and then moved to Yahoo in 2010. Archives for both earlier groups remain on the MDAS website.

Many lists like ours are “private”, meaning that non-members can neither post sightings nor even see what members have posted. Others, such as South Bay Birds have open archives. Sightings lists for the entire Bay Area and beyond are available through Sialia, which is a digest of nationwide lists, customizable by regions. Through Sialia, incidentally, non-members can see posts on EBB_Sightings!

To avoid a cluttered InBox, many list members prefer to receive a single Daily Digest, containing all the day’s posts preceded by a summary. To make sure the list isn’t contaminated with off-topic material or spam, new members must be approved by a Moderator, who also has the power to limit a member’s postings or to cancel their membership entirely. Birdwatchers being a fairly cooperative bunch, about the worst that slips through is an occasional promo for out-of-area birding tours.

Avid birders”, however, may prefer not to wade through reports of backyard chickadees and rather cut to the chase of rarities. The non-web solution for these folks, who some may call listers, relies on text message alerts through their cell phones. Need an Eastern Yellow Wagtail unexpectedly found in Marin for your lifelist? The Bay Area email groups were running slow just before this column was written, but the eBird Alert system got the word out.

Links for the above:;days_ago=0;region=2

Joining an email list involves some form of subscription, given freely with submission of an email address and, in the case of Yahoo or Google group lists, an account (also free) with the host. Text alert systems require submitting a mobile phone number and, in the case of eBird Alerts, an account with Cornell Lab. The same free account is used for eBird itself, which will be the subject of a future column.

Bird Blogs

This fourth article, from the November 2018 Quail, describes several blogs that are primarily focused on bird-watching, and which can be accessed either through a web browser or with a dedicated "reader".

Because this column is on this website, it could appropriately be called a “blog”, as it is a log (a series of repeated, periodic entries) on the web - a “web-log”, shortened to “blog”. The subject of the Bird Wide Web blog is online resources, entertainment, and community for birders. The topic of this particular entry is blogs - repeated, periodic online columns for birders. If this sounds self-referential, it is! This column could be featured in someone else’s bird-centered blog.

As mentioned in the last column on podcasts, some of those are also available in online written form as a blog, with added illustrations, links, etc. An excellent example is Laura Erickson’s For The Birds, which is updated even more often than her regular podcasts/radio shows. The “Doctor Ruth of Ornithology”, she offers decades of excellent bird (and family) photos, discussions of the morality she finds in closely observing nature, and displays an astonishingly broad spectrum of knowledge regarding all things bird.

Another podcast-related blog is Bill Of The Birds, from Bill Thompson III, editor of BirdWatcher’s Digest. More like a web magazine than a true blog, it’s loaded with weblinks, ads, and is about as “monetized” as a blog can be. Nonetheless, it’s full of interesting tidbits, and is worth a visit if just for the wonderful list of links to other blogs, many of which are far superior in a narrowly bird-ophile way.

For an astonishing outpouring of crystal-clear, well-organized photos keyed to the seasons, the work of Lillian Stokes presented in the Stokes Birding Blog is simply unsurpassed. A worthy companion to the Lillian and Don Stokes series of birding guides (prominently shown on the right of each page), over a dozen years of postings are available in addition to the most recent offering. A true gem!

Closer to home, our neighboring Audubon chapter with 7000 members and 5 paid staff also finds time to produce a roughly bi-weekly blog, the Golden Gate Birder from GGAS. The great variety of topics by a vast number of writers is always well-written and timely. One useful feature is the Category index, which makes this blog a good source for background info. And, there’s yet another list of blog links, mostly local, but also including 10000 Birds - which has to be seen to be believed.

It’s possible to “sign up” for these blogs, each in a slightly different way. Golden Gate Birder, for example, can be “Followed”, using Firefox Live Bookmarks and MyYahoo or through an RSS “feed” sign up. Stokes Birding Blog and Bill Of The Birds use the term “Subscribe”, while Laura Erickson offers an email list for new posts of For The Birds. 10000 Birds even promises a daily emailed update!

Links for the above:

Each of these blogs can be accessed through a browser, and either the current posting or a selection from the blog archives chosen to be read or viewed. There is also another way, which like sightings lists (see the December 2018 column of this series) actually predates the Web and browsers. RSS feed apps offer a way to have blog updates automatically delivered to your device and available whenever you want. All the blogs you like can be read through the same application, without having to manually go to each one individually. The following RSS applications are highly recommended by those who use them, either as desktop web-based services or mobile apps, and have free versions available:

Feedly - considered by many to be the best successor to Google Reader, on which it was originally based, but which was discontinued several years ago.
Feeder - possibly the most barebones reader, but still full-featured.

With either of these, it's a simple matter to add a blog to your feed, by clicking on the RSS icon on the blog's home page once you have an account with the reader service.

“Birdy” Podcasts

For those of us who haven’t listened to a “podcast” before, the term itself can be a bit daunting. Fortunately, neither an iPod (“pod”) nor tuning into a broadcast (“cast”) are required. All that’s needed is a device that can play the MP3 format that these recordings use - most cell phones and all computers can - and an internet connection to get the recordings onto the device.

While there are specialized programs (apps) that are designed just for this purpose, the podcasts listed below can be accessed through any web browser (Safari, Firefox, and Chrome, for example), and in most cases can be saved to the phone or computer for later offline listening (thus saving data plan charges on the road, if desired).

As the Rockin’ Robin chorus again sings out its “tweedie-deedie-dee”s, it’s time for another episode of Talkin’ Birds, an independent radio production from the Northeast. This 30-minute delight is sponsored by Birdwatching Magazine, Birds and Beans Coffee, and the Birdwatchers’ General Store, among others. Now at show #689, Ray Brown and his guests discuss a wide range of topics of interest to most anyone who would be reading this, and he even includes a call-in “Mystery Bird” feature for folks who are, in fact, streaming the show or listening through a live radio broadcast (what’s that?!). Even listening later it’s fun to try to identify the bird being featured. And, as the show is coming from the East Coast, it extends our West Coast sensibilities to see what songs/behaviors/descriptions we might recognize when the precise species is not actually found west of the Rockies, but the show's deep conservation commitment is applicable across the continent.

Directly produced by Birdwatcher’s Digest, Out There With The Birds features Bill Thompson, III, the editor and co-publisher, and Ben Lizdas, advertising sales director for BWD and its companion publication Watching Backyard Birds, both headquartered in Ohio. Not as tightly focused on birds as Talkin’Birds, OTWTB has offered 40 25-minute episodes covering deep, timely discussions of a great variety of bird science, trivia, and appreciation. A second podcast from the magazine, This Birding Life features personal observations of the joys and travails of world-wide birding.

A one-woman-show, Laura Erickson’s For The Birds has been on-air (and now on-line) since 1986, with every 3-5 minute spot still available from her website for timeless listening. Based in Minnesota, she deals with weather and warblers we westerners only dream of, but she is always interesting and of far wider relevance than just her local patch. Her bio on her website describes enough expertise and experience for a dozen people.

Links for the above:

Each of the websites linked above offer three basic listening options: streaming, downloading, or podcast app. The easiest option is to click a link and listen. Each of these sites also have either a download link or icon provided for each episode, allowing them to be saved. Or, using a dedicated app such as iTunes, a visitor can also "subscribe" to the podcast "feed", and have it available without further action.

Other features from these sources include written blogs (such as For The Birds - see the upcoming November 2018 column), an "enhanced" podcast in M4V format with images from OTWTB, or even a "live stream" opportunity from Talkin' Birds - guess the secret bird and win!

Finally, Birdwatcher's Digest offers an excellent online set of explanatory Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about podcasts at


This second article, from the September 2018 Quail, describes a mobile application which is available in both free and paid versions, and is associated with the website discussed in the first, June 2018, article.

For the beginning to intermediate birder, iBird Lite (free from Apple App Store, Google Play) offers an introduction to what a mobile application can do to expand our awareness and appreciation for birdwatching. And a chance to see what a downloaded database of birding information can mean while in the field, far from a reliable cell data connection.

Unlike many of the other birding apps around, the iBird family of apps uses illustrations rather than photographs, which significantly reduces the memory storage space required on a smart phone or tablet to download it, and makes it possible to concentrate on specific important features of a bird, rather than a full portrait image, no matter how well shot.

iBird Lite is the free, “sampler” version of the full iBird app, providing complete entries for up to 50 commonly-seen birds in North America. It can be further customized for the user’s region, even limited down to nearby birds, reducing confusion and clutter with species very unlikely to be seen.

To start, clicking on an entry - try Acorn Woodpecker - opens a wealth of info, including detailed drawings with optional field marks, plus links for range, sounds, etc. Closing the Acorn Woodpecker page, notice the Set View/Sort Mode link at the top of the Browse page. This lets you choose how the species will be listed, and even how the specific information will be presented to you. Experiment and see the options; “Thumbnails” is the default setting.

Want to see only local birds? You can choose from the Search > link at the upper right to only be shown “Birds Around Me”, which will open a map to your GPS location if you’re online. If not, you can select California from the Location menu. Using the map allows you to pick a radius from your precise location from 25 to 150 miles.

The Search options include an astonishing array of choices, including Size, Shape, and even Belly Pattern and Song Pattern. It’s fun just to go through the available search filters, either for initial learning or an engaging review of what you think you know.

Returning to the opening Browse screen, click on the standard three-line mobile menu icon, and see more ways to use the app, and even a second method of accessing the Search filters. The Bird Help Forum link opens into the WhatBird Forum ( web pages, including free personalized bird ID help for North American birds, and photo sharing and discussion with a free log-in account. The desktop version of the Forum can also be accessed through the website discussed in the previous article in this series.

Be warned that nearly every screen of the iBird Lite app except for the linked Forum has ads for the paid app, which is, after all, what funds the free version.


This first article, from the June 2018 Quail, describes a website associated with a mobile application which is available in both free and paid versions.

As the name suggests, WhatBird ( is primarily a bird identification website. But it bears almost no resemblance to a typical photo-and-description field guide that you leaf through looking for a familiar face. Developed by the same group that produces iBird Lite, a remarkable, free mobile app that will be discussed in the next The Bird Wide Web column, WhatBird brings the full power of computer intelligent search to the process of identifying an unrecognized sighting.

If the initial step-by-step choices of multiple attributes (location, color, size, wing shape, flight pattern, or any of many dozens more) is too daunting, you can start with the "Bird Expert" function (, which gently guides you through features which might be more apparent. At each choice, the possible matches narrow. You can use your memory, a photo, or even a description by someone else to provide the input, and likely find the bird you seek.

And then there's the "Browser" view (, which again allows you to choose almost any characteristic of a bird and then be given an illustrated list, as though a custom field guide had been created to your specifications. You can scroll through all the California birds, or all the hawks of North America, or even all the brown birds. It's your call.

When you've finally picked a species, clicking on its name or icon brings you to a page with more information on that bird in one place than you would imagine. Photos, song, range, fieldmarks, and more, with additional tabs for identification clues and behavior.

With all these features, it's hard to believe that there's also a "WhatBird Community Forum" (, for help with bird ID, photo comparisons, and discussion topics from feeders to books. It's a whole world of birding from one website.

Be warned that nearly every page of the WhatBird website except for the Forum has ads for the iBird paid app, which is, after all, what funds the entire site.

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