Archive for October, 2008

White-crowned Sparrow!

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Look what loughman1 just found over on the tray feeder: The game’s first White-crowned Sparrow!

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Congratulations, loughman1!

Update: Here’s a nice close-up that she got a few minutes later:

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Lights, Camera, Action!

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

I’m a sucker for a crisp closeup. But blurry can be okay, too, if it’s part of a great action photo. Like these: My favorite action photos from the past few weeks.

Inca Doves are looked down on by some birders; “trash birds”, I’ve heard them called. Maybe I’d feel that way if they lived in my neighborhood, but they’re still kind of exotic to me. Anyway, I make it a point to try not to look down on any bird. Why, I’ve even managed to make myself be interested in starlings, if you can believe it. But however you feel about Inca Doves, you have to admit that if you catch them at the right moment, their wing linings are pretty.

Like in this shot that eyes23blue took back on October 15:

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And this shot that tinyang took a few minutes later:

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If you want pretty, check out this beautiful shot of a Summer Tanager that rafa took on October 17:

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blether (a fairly new user, I think? at least, one I haven’t noticed much before now, but maybe that’s because I’ve only recently been spending more time on the camera after a period of neglect) got this amazing photo of two male Northern Cardinals going mano a mano on October 21. I think this might be my favorite action photo ever:

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Finally, it’s kind of hard to see what’s going on in this one, but if you squint just right at this shot by avatar99 from October 22 you can make out the Barred Owl launching off the end of the T-bar. Look out below, mousies! 🙂

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Congratulations to everyone who caught these amazing moments.

Update: I overlooked this neat shot of a Golden-fronted Woodpecker. It was taken by avatar99 on October 23:

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Later update: txbird got this great shot of the Northern Mockingbird on October 25:

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A Discovery

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

My wife Linda and I took a walk to the beach and back with Toby, our yellow lab, today. It was a nice walk, with an unexpected surprise: As we were on our way back, we found a dead bird next to the sidewalk. I snapped a few photos with my phone; I’m going to put them below the fold in case people don’t want to see pictures of a dead bird.


(More) Butterflies!

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

loughman1 reminded me today that I wanted to post an item on butterflies. I’ve been trying to learn more about insects lately, so I appreciate the chance to gather together some of my favorite CONE Welder butterfly shots.

To make things more fun (and because I’m a total butterfly newbie), I’m just going to post them without IDs. Some of them have IDs recorded on the Welder search page if you click on the image; others don’t. If you know your butterflies, feel free to ID them in the comments.

#1 – I think these are all the same species, but I’m not positive. Whatever these guys are, we see them a lot:

vanilla took this on October 8:

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kryptonkay took this on October 8:

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birdbrain on October 8:

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robin54 on October 12:

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tinyang on October 13:

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leacox on October 13:

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vanilla on October 14:

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txbird on October 19:

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loughman1 on October 20:

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eyes23blue on October 21:

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#2 – This shot’s a little blurry, but maybe someone is expert enough to ID it anyway? rafa took this shot back on August 4:

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#3: – I’m not sure if this is the same species as #2, or a different species. What do you think? vanilla took this shot on October 21:

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#4 – I’m going for the yellow ones here. txbird took this shot on September 19:

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#5 – Here’s a real beauty. loughman1 took this shot on October 7:

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Finally, I know it’s not a butterfly, but this shot of a praying mantis taken by ottavia on October 5 is too cool not to include:

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Bugs are almost as much fun as birds. 🙂

LBJ of Mystery!

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

With txbird driving, a little brown job was photographed in the bare tree beyond and to the right of the pond at 7:27 this morning (oops; yesterday morning, now). I’m pretty sure it’s a new species for the game, though it’s not immediately obvious what species it is. Photos were taken by annelizabeth, loughman1, rafa, txbird, and vanilla, though it looks like vanilla must have subsequently deleted hers. But rafa was clever enough to save all 14 of the original images, and nice enough to forward them to me, so I can display them all in this posting.

There were a number of duplicates (that is, images that were snapped at the same moment by two different players). When I consolidated those, I ended up with 10 images total. I stitched them together into a couple of GIF animations, which allowed me to get a better sense of the bird’s movements (and coincidentally, to shift the frames to compensate for the camera’s pan during the sequence of shots, so the bird stays relatively stationary in the animation).

Here’s my first try at an animation. In this one, each frame takes 1 second:

Here’s a second animation. In this one, I made the pauses between the frames match the (longer) pauses between the actual times when the original shots were taken. In other words, the timing of this animation matches the realtime movements of the bird:

In each case, the shot where the bird is facing mostly toward the camera is the first frame. The shot where the bird has hunched down and looks like it’s about to exit, stage left, is the last frame (though I just made the animation loop continuously). Note also that in the third frame in the sequence, the bird’s tail is partly cut off by the edge of the original image (the camera had been panned to the left). It doesn’t look like that in the animation, because I “cheated” by including the background from one of the other frames, but if you look closely you can see it. I only mention it because I don’t want people scratching their heads over the odd-looking shape of the tail in that one frame.

So, after all that, what do we have here? Speculation in chat covered quite a range, from female Indigo Bunting to Dark-eyed Junco to Ovenbird to Hermit Thrush. Speaking for myself, the first thing I thought was “wren”, and as I scanned through the images I kept hoping to see a light eye stripe that would say “Bewick’s” or “Carolina”. There wasn’t any such eye stripe, as it turned out, but in terms of the overall coloring, posture, and general proportions I really like House Wren. I noticed that birderbf thought the same thing, based on a comment on this image. There are a few shots where I feel like I can see a wren-like beak. At the same time, there’s no apparent barring on the tail, which I’d like to see for a House Wren, though maybe it’s just not visible because of the quality of the image.

loughman1 was leaning toward Hermit Thrush in the chat, and I have to admit that this bird’s coloration and posture both seem pretty good for Hermit Thrush. In looking at the realtime version of the animation, the bird’s sluggishness reminds me more of a thrush than a wren. There’s also that hint of mottling on the throat in the first image — could that be a low-resolution version of a Hermit Thrush’s spots?

One thing that would settle this is size: a House Wren would be noticeably smaller than a Hermit Thrush. My subjective sense of the scale of the image (based on my vague recollection of other birds of known size in that tree) is that this bird looks more wren-sized than thrush-sized, but I’d like to see some comparison shots of known birds in the same location at a similar zoom to be sure. Does anyone know of any such shots?

I guess I’m going to sleep on it and see how I feel in the morning before committing to an ID. In any event, thanks to txbird for finding this great bird, to all the players who got photos of it, and to rafa for saving and forwarding the full set of pre-deletion images. Mystery birds are fun!

Update: ottavia suggested I check out the following YouTube video of a House Wren. She thinks it looks like the mystery bird. What do you think?

Fountain Fun

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

The first view I ever had of CONE Welder was the following zoomed-out panorama:

I wrote at the time:

And then there’s that complicated-looking circular object near the center of the field of view. What is that thing? A feeder station? I really want to zoom in on it to get a better idea.

As we all now know, that thing was actually the fountain, with its inverted-cone squirrel guards (I guess?) around the support legs.

For a long time I mostly neglected the fountain; there didn’t seem to be much happening there. I was much more interested in the feeders, and the pond, and that bare-limbed tree beyond the pond to the right. But lately there have been a lot of good birds being photographed at the fountain. Here are some of my favorite shots from the last few days:

The Eastern Bluebird seems to show up here regularly. Here’s a really nice view (of a male, maybe? not sure), taken by txbird at 1:17 p.m. on October 20:

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Here’s a two-fer: A Green Jay on the left, and an Audubon’s Oriole in the middle. We’ve only seen Audubon’s Oriole a few times with the camera, so this was definitely an exciting appearance. This shot was taken at 6:49 a.m. on October 21, also by txbird:

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Next up are several shots of the Northern Mockingbird, a bird we’ve seen off and on for a while, but have seen a lot of lately at the fountain. The following shots are by, in order, rafa, idbirds, vanilla and tinyang. If you check out the inner toe on the bird’s left foot in each shot, you’ll see that there are at least two mockingirds visiting the fountain: One who is missing that toe, and one who isn’t.

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Finally, here are a bunch of my favorite shots of the Golden-fronted Woodpecker, a bird we’ve seen only a few times before its recent run of fountain visits. These are by idbirds, txbird, vanilla, txbird, rafa, and txbird, respectively:

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I was chatting recently about all the great fountain shots lately, and wondering if there really are more good birds at the fountain these days, and if so, what caused the change. Or is it that there have always been these good birds there, and we’ve just never bothered to look? I could see an argument being made either way. Birds change their habits in response to seasonal movements and shifting food and water sources and any number of other factors. We’ve certainly seen dramatic changes in the birds visiting the feeders over a similar span of time. So I could easily believe that this recent run of interesting birds at the fountain really is a new phenomenon.

On the other hand, I’ve always been suspicious of the unavoidable tunnel vision imposed by the CONE system. With no peripheral vision and no audio cues, and with the constricted field of view when the camera is zoomed in, birdwatching with CONE Welder is a little like a deaf person birding with his or her eyes constantly looking through binoculars (or rather, a spotting scope, and a spotting scope restricted to sweeping through a fairly limited arc in terms of side-to-side motion, and an even more limited arc in terms of up and down). When I try to imagine what it would be like to bird in that fashion, I’m struck by the realization that there could be all kinds of interesting birdy activity going on just outside the frame, and I would simply never be aware of it.

Something I thought about several times with the old CONE SF system, and that I think about now with CONE Welder, is that I’d love to actually be there with my binoculars and a network-equipped laptop, birding the area conventionally, and comparing what I see and hear to what is being found and seen via the camera. As with that shot Chris forwarded to us of the Red-shouldered Hawk perched high in the bare tree (who even knew that there was a top portion of that bare tree?), I suspect I’d find that there is a lot going on that is being missed by the camera.

I think there’s a larger philosophical lesson there. Something I’ve definitely learned from birding is how the process of becoming a better birder is not just about becoming more knowledgeable. It’s about becoming more aware. For all that I really love the CONE system, it’s important to be aware of its limitations, and one of its biggest limitations, I think, is that tunnel vision it imposes.

But constrained as it is, it still offers an amazing view into the birds at a place that I otherwise would not be able to see at all. And these latest shots from the fountain are a great example of that. Thanks to everyone who made them possible!

Chipping Sparrow!

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Look what showed up today: The game’s first images of what I’m pretty sure are a duo of Chipping Sparrows. Here are three shots, all taken by eyes23blue (txbird also got one shot):

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Congratulations, eyes23blue!

CONE Welder Videos at YouTube

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

I was in the game for a little bit this morning (something I haven’t been doing enough of lately; shame on me), and had the fun of meeting a new user, amy0321. She (I’m assuming she’s a she, based on the username) mentioned that she’s a graduate student doing research on the technology of wild bird observation, and that she’s located in Beijing. She also mentioned that she’d seen some videos on YouTube about Professor Goldberg and CONE Welder, which led me to check them out. They’re pretty cool!

Here’s one I’d seen before, though not on YouTube: It’s a demo of how to use the site, with narration by (I believe) Bryce Lee:

Here’s a short (53 second) video of Prof. Goldberg talking about CONE Welder to (I believe) a classroom of younger children:

Here’s a longer (1h 26m) video of Prof. Goldberg talking about various projects he’s worked on, including CONE, in a presentation at Stanford University:

Finally, here’s Prof. Goldberg in an hourlong interview from the series “Conversations with History”, talking about “his dual careers as an industrial engineer who designs robots and an artist whose creations use robots to stimulate understanding of technology’s impact.”

Like I said, really cool stuff! Thanks, amy0321!

Playing the CONE-Welder game: guidelines

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Several of us have been active participants in CONE Welder for many  months. We’ve developed a few guidelines that help us get along with each other, and allow everyone to take good pictures.

Be aware that there is only one camera, and it is shared by everyone who is currently logged in (left side of Chat screen). If several people try to drive the camera at the same time, no one gets a decent picture, and everyone gets frustrated.

The first guideline is: Only one camera driver at a time.

How do you know if someone is driving? If the camera lens (on the right side of your screen) is moving over the landscape, or around some feeder, then someone else is driving. If it is not moving, then the current driver may be waiting for the camera to move (sluggish internet connection), may be waiting for the return of something that just jumped off-screen, or may wish someone else would take over.

What if you want to drive the camera? Keep the Chat window open – you don’t have to participate in conversations unless you want to. If you want to drive the camera, on the Chat screen ask: “May I take the camera?” Abbreviated to MITC? Then wait 30 seconds. Someone will let you know if they really need to continue. Otherwise, you are free to take the camera.

The second guideline is: Ask first; don’t just grab the camera.

When you are finished driving the camera: Use the Chat function to announce “Camera is free.” Abbreviated to CIF.

So now you’ve taken a picture, what next? For those pictures worth keeping, try to zone your pictures promptly. If the picture contains images that are so small or fuzzy that they cannot readily be identified by others, it may be appropriate to delete the picture. It you keep such a picture, it’s considerate to add a note to the comment section indicating the classification you have assigned. Otherwise the picture may languish forever in the Unclassified files. If you are unsure about the correct identification, use the Chat function to ask others for assistance. If you have two or more species in one picture, zone each species separately. If you have two or more of the same species in one picture, you may zone them together or separately. [If you zone them separately, you get more points – a boon to the more competitive among us, and an annoyance to everyone else!] Zone separately any bird that has a band or other unique characteristic. The system gives you an hour from the time you take the picture until the picture appears on the “public” screen. It is best to get your picture zoned before it becomes public.

There are unzoned pictures on the public screen. Should I zone them? No. Sometimes photographers keep several pictures for a while – trying to decide which to delete. If you put a zone, comment, or star on that picture, the picture can no longer be deleted. When looking at those pictures, try to keep your hands off the keyboard! It’s okay, though, to use the Chat function to remind the photographer that s/he has unzoned pictures.

The third guideline is: Don’t put zones, comments, or stars on someone else’s unzoned picture.

Can I take a picture of anything? Pretty much, yes. Keep in mind that the Welder study is concerned with range expansion for several traditionally subtropical bird species (see the link for the list on the About page). So it’s good to get pictures of those species when you can. Birds, insects, mammals, reptiles – are all fair game. Occasionally you may also see people. But – just like at home – don’t take pictures of people without their permission: it’s an invasion of their privacy.

Other questions? Use the Chat function to ask. Among the people logged in, there is likely to be someone who will be glad to answer or refer you to a place where you can get an answer.


Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Thanks to Kay Loughman (aka loughman1), we now have a list of a dozen common butterfly species that may be seen at Welder. How many of them can we identify in photos taken with the camera?