Archive for November, 2008

American Goldfinch!

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

The game’s newest species is American Goldfinch, with a number of shots having been taken between November 24 and November 26. The first identified shot was this one, taken by txbird, with a Chipping Sparrow thrown in for good measure:

Image 116994

I also liked the view of the lefthand bird’s wings in this shot (also with a Chipping Sparrow), taken by idbirds:

Image 117003

I thought this shot, also taken by idbirds, was pretty interesting:

Image 117442

I thought it was interesting because that bit of white at the base of the primaries made me wonder if that was actually a Lesser Goldfinch, rather than an American. (Those two species have always confused me, except for the rare, happy occasions when I’ve had both of them right next to each other on my feeder.) But after consulting my smaller Sibley guide (the big one is at home; I only have the Western guide with me on the vacation I’m currently on), I agree that all of these shots are probably American, rather than Lesser.

Great shots of a great bird! Congratulations to everyone who got a photo.

CONE Welder Down

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

The camera appears to be down, and based on the images in the “Search” interface, has been so since shortly after noon yesterday.

There were some interesting icterid photos taken yesterday that I’d be interested in classifying. Hopefully the system is back up and running soon.

Update: As of about 10:00 Sunday morning, November 23, the camera is back in action. Yay!

Craig’s Leucistic Blackbird

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

Craig posted some cool shots on his blog today of what I believe is a leucistic male Brewer’s Blackbird:

He took the photo today outside the Craigslist offices, which I believe are in San Francisco. I did a quick googling for “leucistic Brewer’s Blackbird”, and it turned up this really interesting image uploaded by Flickr user Robinsegg on September 28:

I don’t know where or when that second photo was taken, but it looks similar-enough to Craig’s bird to make me wonder: could these actually be the same bird? The pattern of white feathers is not exactly the same; Craig’s bird has some white feathers on the upper back that the Robinsegg bird doesn’t. But it seems just possible to me that that could be the result of the bird undergoing a partial molt during the time between the two photos being taken. And there are a couple of really striking similarities: both birds have a patch of brown feathers toward the back of the crown, and both have what looks like a large white feather in the flight feathers of the left wing. On the Robinsegg bird, it looks like it’s one of the left tertials (or maybe a secondary?), while on Craig’s bird it looks more like a primary. Though I suppose it’s possible that it’s actually a new primary, just growing in, in the Robinsegg photo.

In truth, I think they’re probably different birds that just happen to look similar. But wouldn’t it be cool if they really were the same individual?

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker video

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Tinyang was driving the camera today while I managed to record this video of the male Gold-Fronted Woodpecker.

She took this wonderful shot too. Congratulations, tinyang!

Band-injured Green Jay

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Loughman to Rappole and Glasscock – 9/25/08: A week ago several of the CONE observers noticed a color-banded Green Jay where the band appeared to be causing a problem with the foot. We’ve seen this bird again today, and can see that the bird is in trouble. Please see the attached pictures.  [Click on picture to see CONE observer’s comments]

At least two of us are banders, and agree we would want to know if a band was harming the bird. We urge you to attempt to re-capture the bird and remove the band. As I hope you can imagine, it’s upsetting to all observers to see a creature whose suffering appears due to the hand of man. Thank you.

Rappole to Loughman and Glasscock – 9/26/08: Thank you for bringing this problem to our attention. We will do our best to correct it, but please understand that capture of Green Jays is not easy. It took me a month to capture and band the six young birds that visit the feeder now. Also, as you know from your own banding experience, recapture of birds once captured is generally more difficult than original capture.

Green Jays, as you may know, are very hard on bands. They work at them with their powerful bills, and the most likely scenario in this case is that this bird will fully remove the band itself. We will hope for that outcome, and, in the meantime, take what action we can to try and correct it ourselves.

Loughman to Rappole and Glasscock – 9/26/08: Thank you for your note. Having banded Western Scrub-Jays, I am indeed aware of the challenges! Whatever you can do will be appreciated.

Rappole to Loughman and Glasscock – 9/27/08: Thanks, Kay. Please feel free to point out any similar situations that you or other participants may encounter. When it comes to the actual proper operation of the program, we want to know of any problems immediately so that they can be corrected.


Updated pictures:






CONE Welder Temporarily Down

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I just received the following email from loughman1:


This morning I sent a note to Goldberg, et al about the camera – see bottom message here – and received this note from Dez Song at TAMU. I’ve posted his note to Chat.

I’m sending this note to all the CONE-Welder players for whom I have e-mail addresses – fewer than a dozen. So feel free to forward the message to your best buddies.



Hi Kay,

We are aware of the problem and working on the issue. It is a network outage with possible equipment damage. We are trying to figure out what went wrong.

On Thu, 6 Nov 2008, Kay Loughman wrote:

> Hi Folks,
> We haven’t had a camera at Welder since yesterday, about noon. Some people are having serious withdrawal problems! Would it be possible for you to give us a brief message in the News section of the Login page – something that says why, and when it is expected that the camera will be functioning again?
> Thanks,
> Kay

In the meantime, those suffering from withdrawal can check out grrlscientist’s “Mystery Bird of the Day” feature at Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted). I confess that that’s one of my favorite places to hide out lately when I’m not on CONE Welder.

White-throated Sparrow!

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

They weren’t great shots, but apparently the view was better for those watching the live video, since judging by the chat there wasn’t much doubt about the ID. And the best shot, which was taken by abirch, was clear enough to remove any doubt from my mind: The game’s first White-throated Sparrow, as viewed in the bare tree at around 3:40 p.m. yesterday:

Image 107462

Contgratulations, abirch (and also blether, who also got a shot good enough for an ID)!

From the chat transcript:

[15:39:27] idbirds: white-throated sparrow!
[15:40:32] cimperialis: i did not know they get those in southern TX
[15:41:37] idbirds: yes; did anyone get a decent pic?
[15:41:51] blether: out of focus
[15:42:27] cimperialis: nope, i’m over the limit
[15:42:31] abirch: I got two – one very distant and one OK
[15:43:08] ottavia: I think that our new players are bringing us luck… a new species, two days in a row
[15:43:19] ottavia: !
[15:43:23] blether: i tried with the camera, but it was too slow
[15:44:41] blether: too intense, need a rest
[15:44:53] idbirds: abirch – I think your #462 may be good enough for a classification!
[15:46:44] ottavia: loughman, we have a new species!
[15:47:06] blether: i was lucky on the camera today, everywhere I went it was birds
[15:52:29] loughman1: Hi folks. So please tell me what is the new species? When I looked at Search all I saw was a zillion cardinals!
[15:52:47] blether: it was a white throated sparrow
[15:53:46] loughman1: That’s cool. Pic #?
[15:55:15] idbirds: pic #462
[15:57:02] loughman1: Great!
[15:57:42] txbird: someone is still looking for another picture, loughman
[15:58:13] vanilla: Congrats on the new bird!

Juvenile Swan at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

This isn’t CONE Welder content, but I wanted to post some images I took with my phone when my son and I came across an unexpected bird at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Reserve this afternoon. I’m pretty sure this is an immature Mute Swan:

The bird seemed fairly tame; it swam under the Franklin Creek footbridge while my son and I stood above, then hung around for the ten minutes we stayed to watch it, dipping for what looked like aquatic plants.

“Bonus” Zoom (aka “Wide Angle”)

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Today idbirds and I were chatting about something we’d noticed from time to time: How it apparently is possible to get a view with the camera that is zoomed out farther than is normally allowed. We did some experimenting, and it turns out that it’s pretty easy to trick the system into giving you such a zoomed-out view. Here’s a photo I took when the camera was in what we’ve taken to calling “bonus zoom” mode:

Image 106894

(Update: abirch suggested calling it “wide angle” mode, which I think is probably a better name.)

It seems like this view would be handy in certain circumstances. It helps avoid some of the “tunnel vision” I was talking about in a recent post. You need to be careful with this, since it will tend to make small birds disappear in more-distant views. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s noticed how smaller birds can seem to vanish when the camera is zoomed out too far, especially when those birds are located far away. That’s why I tend to zoom in a bit when scanning distant locations: There’s no point in looking for birds if you’re zoomed out too far to see them.

To give you a sense of scale, there’s a Golden-fronted Woodpecker visible on the fountain in the lower lefthand corner of that bonus-zoom shot above. It’s pretty tiny, even though it is quite close to the camera. So don’t expect to see small birds in bonus-zoom mode if you’re pointed very far away.

But I think bonus zoom could be useful when looking at a field of view that is relatively close to the camera, waiting for something to fly in that can then be zoomed in on for a closer view. The bonus zoom lets you keep more area under surveillance without having to constantly be panning back and forth. Also, if you could pan while in bonus zoom mode, you could cover the same field of view more quickly, making fewer stops.

There are two parts to this bonus zoom trick that we worked out today:

Trick #1: Getting into bonus zoom mode

This takes two users working together.

The system normally restricts how large a field of view you can request. When drawing a rectangle on the panorama, or when using the minus sign (-) button to expand your most-recent request box, you can’t go past a certain-sized box. (I’ll refer to this normal maximum-zoomed-out view as “max zoom”.)

It turns out, though, that the “game” interface we use to issue requests artificially limits this max zoom. That is, the underlying camera system is capable of zooming out farther than that. In particular, if two users each draw a max-zoom box slightly off-center from each other at roughly the same time, the system will try to accommodate their requests by zooming the camera out a bit more to create a view that encompasses both requests. As long as no one then pulls the camera back by issuing another request, the camera will stay in bonus-zoom mode.

The specific way we accomplished this today was this: One user would start drawing max-zoom requests on the panorama, centering those requests on the red hummingbird feeder to the left of and slightly above the fountain. (There’s nothing magic about that location, but it made for a convenient landmark as we coordinated in chat.) At the same time, the second user started drawing max-zoom requests that were centered about halfway between the hummingbird feeder and the upper-righthand corner of the first user’s request box.

In other words, the second user’s request box was positioned in such a way that its upper righthand corner was above and to the right of the first request box by an amount about half the size of a normal max-zoom box. In still other words, the finished bonus-sized box ended up being about 50% larger than a normal max-zoom box. From the small amount of experimenting we did today, it looks like that’s about as big a box as we can make. When we tried to make a larger bonus-zoom box, the trick didn’t work. That probably reflects a hard limit in the camera’s underlying control system.

The trickiest part of this is knowing when to stop drawing boxes. If you watch the panorama carefully, you can see when the camera creates a bold box representing bonus-zoom mode. Once you see that, it’s important that you stop issuing requests. If you (or another user) draws another request after that, the view will shrink back to that size, dropping you out of bonus-zoom mode.

It seems to work best having just two users do this trick. When we tried it with a third user, we ran into problems, since the chances increased that a late request would drop us back out of bonus zoom after we’d achieved it.

Trick #2: Maintaining and restoring bonus zoom

As you can see, it’s a little bit of work getting into bonus zoom. Also, once you’re in it, you can’t issue another request (zooming or panning) without dropping the camera back to a normal view. But we figured out the following trick: If, once the camera is in bonus-zoom mode, you leave the game and immediately return, as you arrive you will be given a default black request rectangle that is equal to the camera’s current view. In other words, you’ll get a request rectangle that is bonus-zoom sized.

This is really useful. If you draw a rectangle on the panorama, or use the zoom buttons (+/-), you’ll get a normal-sized request box, and lose your bonus-zoom request box. But as long as you limit yourself to using only the arrow keys on the camera controls (up, down, left, right), you can drive the bonus-zoom request box wherever you want. In other words, you can pan around the panorama in bonus-zoom mode.

Besides being able to pan in bonus-zoom mode, there’s another advantage to getting a bonus-sized request box. If a bird appears, and some other user zooms in on it, you will keep your bonus-sized request box. As long as you don’t issue any other pointing requests, you can easily restore the bonus-zoom mode afterward by nudging your request box with the arrow keys.

Did you follow that? Once you get into bonus-zoom mode using trick #1, one or more users can then obtain a bonus-zoom sized request box using trick #2. They can then pan around in bonus-zoom mode using the arrow keys, and, if a bird is seen and the camera is zoomed in by another user, they can return the camera to bonus-zoom mode afterwards by nudging the arrow keys.

Red-shouldered Hawk for Real!

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

We knew it was around, based on that picture that Chris McLean took on-site and forwarded to us (see Red-shouldered Hawk!, posted back on September 1). But until now we’d never obtained a picture with the birdcam.

I was chatting in CONE Welder the other day about how sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Well, give new user abirch credit for a nice helping of beginner’s luck, because this afternoon at 4:43 p.m. he or she got the first official shot in the game of the Red-shouldered Hawk:

Image 107019

Two seconds later, loughman1 got this shot, which shows the bird’s eye a little better:

Image 107020

I think what we’re seeing here is a Red-shouldered Hawk that has dropped from a hunting perch, probably onto one of those rodents that like to hang out under the feeders. It looks like the bird is on the ground, facing toward our right, with its wings spread out.

Congratulations abirch and loughman1 on these really cool shots of a really spectacular bird! Now we just need to get a shot that shows the whole bird. 🙂