Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Brown Booby...yeeaAA!

Well, if there's one thing birders love it is a good wild goose booby chase! This crazy bird was found on Monday afternoon by Jim Pawlicki at Erie Basin Marina on the New York side of the Niagara River. (This is at the south end of the Niagara River Corridor IBA so please report all of your observation to eBird!)  A few lucky people saw it later that day (including in Canadian waters). Yesterday (Tuesday) I was able to get to Fort Erie for first light but had to leave mid-morning. I was a little bummed (to say the least) when I found out that I missed it later on but that's how it goes.  Luckily I had a second shot this morning and the bird obliged by doing a flyby heading upriver past my viewing location - thanks to Steve Charbonneau for picking it up! Apparently it was Steve's 400th bird for Ontario! It wasn't close enough for photos (but was closer than the reef tower) so here is a shot I took in Cuba of an adult female:
adult female Brown Booby from Cuba in 2006
The best photos and video of the bird I have seen were on the Nemesis Bird blog - check it out...they even have video! UPDATE - Jim Pawlicki et al. got out on a boat on the afternoon of October 9 and he got some stunners!!

This bird has already made the news media too - check out this story from the St. Catharines Standardthis clip from CHCH news, and a story on The Buffalo News.

Anyways, I wanted to give some tips for those that might try for this bird later this week or this weekend.

Be prepared:
First, if you have a smart phone be sure you are subscribed to Ontbirds and Genessee Birds - that way you'll know if anyone is seeing it on either side of the river.  You can also just check the listings on the web for those - Ontbirds archives and Genessee Birds archives.  If you are an Ontario birder, you need to know that Canadian cell service is pretty poor along the river so be prepared for American signals - consider a prepaid voice/data package from you regular cell phone provider so you can use the American signal without paying more than your binoculars (alternatively you can just wait until your next bill and try to get them to remove the charges since you didn't leave the country).

If you are going to be there in the morning, polarized sunglasses will help cut the glare from the sun, which unfortunately you will have to deal with. Of course, you need a scope as the bird has been mostly on the far side of the river. It has been quite cool both mornings - I've been happy to have a winter hat and gloves for the first hour or so of the day.

Know the bird's routine
It looks like a pattern is developing for this bird. Between 7:30 and 8:30 it has been seen between the red-roofed building and the Peace Bridge before heading towards the lake and disappearing for a long period of time. I think this bird roosts somewhere in this vicinity, gets up and flies around for a bit then goes somewhere to feed.  Then it seems like it comes back mid-afternoon (after 2 pm) and spends a lot of time resting on Donnelly's Pier for most of the rest of the day. It seems like later in the day is more reliable, but you might be less likely to get the bird in Canadian water (if you care about that!).

Know where to look
So far, almost all of the observations in Ontario have come from a small parking lot at Mather Park across from Old Fort Erie. From there you can see several key landmarks (as summarized by Willie D'Anna here).
-Mather Park parking lot - Ontario birders are parking here and viewing from this general area
-Erie Basin Marina tower - This is where a lot of American birders are watching from.  You can easily see this tower (and see if birders in it are getting excited!) through your scope from the Ontario side.
-Donnelly's Pier - This is the spot where the booby seems most likely to come to rest in the afternoon.  It has a big sand/gravel deposit
-Reef Lighthouse - 42.881273, -78.915133 (not visible on Google).  This is the old frame of a building on a big rock reef where cormorants like to hang out. On October 8 the booby was sitting here at dusk. This structure is in American waters but it is only about 50 m east of the international border.
-Red-roofed building - 42.879589, -78.915133 (not visible on Google). This is also known as the water intake building.  It is a good reference point when searching.

Here is the map (click here to open in new window) showing those locations.

Update: here are some distance measurements:
Mather Park to Donnelly's Pier (NW tip) = 1.95 km
Mather Park to Reef Lighthouse = 1.41 km
Mather Park to Red-roof Building = 1.72 km
Mather Park to Erie Basin Marina tower = 2.79 km
Mather Park to international border = 0.96 km (shortest distance, which happens to be in a straight line towards Erie Basin Marina tower)

Erie Basin Marina tower to international border = 1.83 km (shortest distance, which happens to be in a straight line towards Mather Park)
Erie Basin Marina tower to Donnelly's Pier (NW tip) = 0.93 km
Erie Basin Marina tower to Reef Lighthouse = 2.08 km
Erie Basin Marina tower to Red-roof Building = 1.88 km

If you're interested, here is a screen shot of a bit better resolution map showing the Reef Lighthouse and the red-roofed building with the international border shown:
The reef lighthouse (upper left), red-roof building (lower right) and international border
You can explore that imagery on MNR's make a topographic map tool, just be sure to turn on the
southwestern Ontario imagery layer and set the transparency to about 75% to be able to see the structures and the border.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Where have you gone eBirding?

Alvan just posted his maps of eBird locations that he made using instructions provided on the Birdventure Blog, so I couldn't resist too!

It took me about 10 minutes or so and it is fun to see where all I have recorded birds in eBird.  You can go to my map by clicking here.

Anyways, here are some screen shots:

Looks like I still have lots of places to visit!

Here are detailed, step-by-step instructions:

Part 1: download your eBird data
1. sign in to eBird
2. click the "My eBird" tab
3. scroll down and click the "download my data" link from the right-hand margin (near the bottom)
4. wait ~5 minutes and you'll get an email with a link to download the data

Part 2: tweak it in Excel
1. open the csv file
2. select all of the data by clicking the corner between column A and row 1
3. click the data tab
4. click "remove duplicates"
5. click "unselect all" from the remove duplicates dialog box that opens
6. check the "my data has headers" checkbox
7. check the "submission ID" checkbox and then hit OK
8. delete all of the columns except location name, latitude, longitude and date
9. select all of the data as in step 2
10. in the data tab click sort
11. in the sort dialog box check the "my data has headers" then sort by the data column (A to Z should be default). This step doesn't really matter at all if you are just making the map...
12. in cell E1 type "checklists"
13. in cell E2 type "=Countif(A:A,A2)" (remove the quotes)
14. copy cell E2 and paste it into all of the other cells in column E (down to your last row)
15. copy column E by clicking the E at the top
16. right-click on E and click "paste special" and select values
17. go through steps 3-7 to remove duplicate locations
18. go through steps 9-11 to sort by checklist
19. now save the file as something in a location you will remember. be sure to keep it as a .csv file.

Part 3: map it 
go to and sign in/sign up
1. click "upload data"
2. scroll down and click "upload files from you computer"
3. click "add file"
4. find the file and add it
5. once you get the complete message, click "next"
6. click "next step" to georeference your data
7. click the "locate using the latitude and longitude columns" button
8. click the "continue" button
9. after a short wait to process the data you'll move to the next screen ("review your geodata") - click the "continue" button to move on
10. on the next screen you can give you data set a name and add a description (all optional). if you want your data (and map(s)) to be public be sure that "access" and "find" are checked off beside "everyone may:" under the heading "Who may access this data?" Alternatively if you don't want it to be public make sure those are not checked.  Once you're ready, scroll down and hit "save"
11. Now you should see your data on a map.  To make a map that you can edit, click the "Map Data" button
12. On your map screen (may take a few seconds to load all of your data) you will now have options in a "style" toolbar to edit what the symbols look like, plus you can edit your maps name.  Once you are done making your map pretty click the "save" button.
13. Once your map is saved you can just copy the url and share that with people (if you made it public), or you can click the "PrtSc" button on your keyboard to copy your screen view and paste that into a program like Paint.

There are a couple other, even simpler ways to make these maps! Thanks to Jeff Skevington for this one:
1. download your eBird data (as described in part 1, above).
2. delete all columns except latitude and longitude.
3. highlight all of the records (see part 2, step 2 above)
4. remove duplicates (see part 2, step 3-6 above)
5. copy all coordinates from the two columns
6. go to
7. create a login
8. paste the data into the point data tab
9. click on preview tab and refresh
10. position map and choose projection
11. click download and choose your preferred file type.

I think you can also now use the new Google Maps to do this- just save a spreadsheet with latitude and longitude and import it.