ABOUT ME - My name is Amy and I'm a birder living in central Florida. On this blog I post book and birding product reviews as well as birder gift ideas and announcements related to my birder gift shop on this site. I also have a personal birding blog called Powered By Birds.

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Blog Disclosure

Unless otherwise stated, all books and other products reviewed on this blog were purchased or independently acquired by the reviewer. Readers who make a purchase by clicking on links in product reviews or featured t-shirt posts (T-Shirt Tuesday) may result in the blogger receiving a commission or referral fee.

Giveaway alert: Crossley ID Guide

Posted on June 13th, 2012 in Books, Giveaway

Princeton University Press is giving away a copy of The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds via Google+. Add PUP to your circles for a chance to win this giveaway. Enter prior to Friday, June 15 2012 for your chance to win! See this blog post for details. Good luck!

Wake Up and Save the Birds

Posted on May 22nd, 2012 in Products

This is how coffee should be grown. If you drink coffee, please consider purchasing certified bird-friendly beans. Watch this video and learn more about the SMBC Bird Friendly seal of approval.

App Review: BirdsEye BirdLog

Posted on March 25th, 2012 in App Review

BirdsEye BirdLog is a new app for entering eBird checklists while in the field. It became available for the iPhone this week (after being available for Android for the last several weeks). I tried it out on a couple of field outings this weekend and I LOVE IT! The following review / walk-through assumes you are familiar with using eBird on your home computer already (and if you’re not – you should be!).

The initial menu is simple. Pick Submit Sightings to get started.

Just as when using eBird on the computer, the first step is to pick your birding location. Since this is an app on a smartphone, you can pick locations based on where the phone is situated at the moment. When you pick a Nearby Hotspot or Nearby Personal Location, the birding spots will be listed in order of proximity. If you are somewhere new, you can use a map to pick your location, just as you would on the computer.

Next you have to enter the start time for your list. This will default to the current time, but you can easily change this.

After you have picked your location and entered the start time, you are ready to record the birds you see. BirdsEye BirdLog wants you to enter the number of individuals seen, so your first keypad will be a number pad. After you hit the space bar, the alphabet keypad will appear. The app accepts 4-letter codes for the birds, and it seems to recognize many of them after just three letters. In the example below, I typed 7 [space] bhc and the app shows Brown-headed Cowbird in the list. The final step for entering a bird is clicking on the name of the bird to confirm.

I could have also typed 7 [space] cow, which would have given me the option to tap Brown-headed Cowbird, Shiny Cowbird, or Bronzed Cowbird. The search is slick in this way so you can use either 4-letter codes, proper bird names, or parts of bird names to get the final result.

If you see additional birds of the same species on your trip, you can look through the list of checked birds (the birds you have already entered on the current list) and change the number of individuals seen. But even better, you can simply enter the new sighting, and the app will add all of the birds for a single total. So using the cowbird example, if you see three more birds, you would type 3 [space] bhco to add three Brown-headed Cowbirds to your list; your total will be 10 cowbirds.

Normally when I jot down my list on paper, I stop periodically to do so rather than record every bird the moment I see/hear it. This method works well with the app. The sightings are saved if you change to a new application on your phone, and of course your in-progress list remains when you turn off the phone.

Entering notes on your sightings is easy – simply click on the name of the species to enter comments or change the number of individuals seen. For review species, I noted that you are asked to check to confirm the entry (similar to standard computer eBird data entry), but entering comments or notes on the sighting are not required for you to proceed with entering the checklist.

When you are done birding, you enter the protocol information for your checklist. The app will help you with the duration of your outing – pretty slick!

If you need to make a change to your list after you have submitted it, the app will direct you to the eBird website. Unfortunately you can’t make changes to your checklists via the app at this time, though it’s not terribly difficult to do so via the website on a smartphone.

Your BirdsEye BirdLog lists can be found in the My Sightings portion of the app. If you start a checklist, it will be found here. It’s easy to remove false starts (or test lists) by swiping right to left on the right side of the listed checklist to reveal a delete button.

While it did take me a bit longer to enter my list on the phone compared to jotting down notes in a notepad in the field, it only takes one click at the end, “submit,” to get my list onto eBird, which is my ultimate goal, anyway. This app is a huge time-saver and pretty slick besides. I can’t wait to use it again! Moar birding, yeah! I give BirdsEye BirdLog 5 Goldfinches out of 5.

If you’re using an Android phone, the app is available for your platform, too. I suggest reading this review by blogger Scott Simmons: Review of BirdsEye Log App for Android. The screens look a bit different though the app works the same.

Quick reminder: I have a new, personal birding blog called Powered By Birds. I hope you’ll give it a look. Thank you for reading the Magnificent Frigatebird blog.

Announcing Powered By Birds

Posted on March 16th, 2012 in Site update, Websites & Blogs

Hello dear bird blog pals and readers! I’m so excited to announce a brand new place for my personal birding blog: Powered By Birds. Most of my older blog posts have been moved to the new site but I am still working on getting everything exactly where it needs to be.

This blog will remain as my site to post book reviews, product reviews, contests and giveaways for birders, movie reviews, and maybe a little bit more promotion for my online birder gift shop.

Thank you for bearing with me as I continue to work on this cyber-move. And thank you for reading and following the MagnificentFrigatebird blog. I hope you’ll stick around, and give Powered By Birds a look, too.

App Review: Nature Viewing

Posted on February 21st, 2012 in App Review, Florida

Last month I downloaded a new, free iPhone app called Nature Viewing. The app was developed for budding naturalists who explore the great outdoors in Florida. I learned about this app from the new “On the Trail” with FWC blog, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in learning more about wildlife viewing and natural history events in Florida.

Three sections are devoted to field identification. Users can search for Flowering Plants, Butterflies, and Birds based on simple field marks like color, size, shape, and season.

The example below shows a search for a very small white flower with the petals arranged in a roundish shape. As it stands there are 13 results; they could be filtered further by picking the way the flowers are arranged.

The results are photos shown in a clickable list. Each flowering plant has supplemental information like typical habitat, life cycle through the seasons, and if the plant is native to Florida and how it may be beneficial to wildlife. This part of the app includes 247 of the most common plants (including invasives) found in various Florida habitats.

The identification flow for butterflies and birds works in roughly the same way. There are 200 birds and 106 butterflies in the searchable database. Here are some screen shots of a search for a perching bird with black and orange coloring that is found in my back yard in winter.

click to embiggen

I’m a novice when it comes to butterfly and plant identification, so these two sections of the app are quite useful to me. The identification flow works well for these, and it seems to work well for birds, too, though the limited number of species here proves a bit less useful to me (especially considering I have five fully loaded bird identification apps loaded on my iPhone). The flowering plant and butterfly sections are useful enough and I would love to see these expanded to other groups like mammals and reptiles in the future.

Another section of the app is devoted to 493 sites in the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Sites can be searched by name or by location by using the map option. With all of the information available about the sites on the GFBWT website, I was disappointed by the lack of information available on the app. Each site has one or two photographs and only the most basic location information, usually only providing the managing organization, plus county, city, and contact phone number. In the screenshot showing Chesnut Park below, there are two photos (indicated by the two dots under the photo) but no other information than what you see.

The location is detailed in the map feature, but I was hoping for the kind of useful data found on the website, like habitat, amenities, accessibility, best times, target species, etc. Even if these aren’t available in the app, a link from the app to the location’s page on the GFBWT site would be extremely useful.

In the final section of the app, users can add their favorite species and birding locations to the “my stuff” folder. This is a bookmark-like feature, allowing users to save species or trail locations for future viewing.

I applaud the creators (the application was developed by the Florida Museum of Natural History, the University of Florida, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) for introducing this Florida-centric nature app. I’m looking forward to using the flower and butterfly identification sections more in the future. This is a fine app for anyone looking for help in field ID of birds, butterflies, and flowering plants. The birding trail portion of the app has the most potential and I hope this will be developed more in future versions. As the app stands today, I give it a hopeful 3 Goldfinches out of 5.

Book Review: Birds of India

Posted on February 14th, 2012 in Book Review, Books, India

Birds of India by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, and Tim Inskipp. Published March 7, 2012. As reviewed and pictured: softcover, 528 pages.

In early 2006, Arthur and I visited Rajasthan in India for a much-too-short 20 days. We were interested in visiting both cultural sights and natural wonders, but we weren’t into birds as much as we are today. During our tour of the Rajasthan region, we visited a few nature reserves and saw some amazing birds, but in the end our list of species seen there totals a rather pathetic-by-“birding”-standards 55.

The photos below do not do justice to the beautiful printing work of this book. I have included them to give readers an idea of how the pages are laid out and a general idea of the quality of the artwork, which is very, very good. Unlike my rather drab photos, the actual pages of the book pop with their white backgrounds and detailed color images.

The Lesser Goldenback (aka Black-rumped Flameback) was one of the species we managed to see

Ever since that trip, I have longed to return, because I just love Indian culture, Indian food, Indian people. Naturally, I’d spend more time looking for birds the second time around. In the meantime, I have the fabulous new updated Birds of India to fuel my birding dreams and to help me create a wishlist / itinerary.

Bustards are on my wishlist

The guide covers the birdlife of the entire Indian Subcontinent, and is subtitled “Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.”

Besides the standard how-to-use-this-guide information at the start of the book, there is a helpful section describing subcontinent specifics such as major habitat types, climate, and conservation threats to the birds covered in the guide. A map shows the impressive number of BirdLife International Important Bird Areas of the subcontinent; there are 465 in India alone.

The bulk of the book consists, naturally, of species accounts. There are a whopping 1,375 species listed, illustrated, and described. The text accounts are accompanied by range maps on the same page, with the color plates opposite – the best layout for a guide meant to be used in the field. Identification details are listed, with vocalization and habitat/habits listed separately for each species. Details about taxonomy and alternative names are also noted separately when applicable.

Beautiful species in the Courser and Pratincole families top my wishlist, too

As do these gorgeous sunbirds

Although illustrated by nineteen different talented artists, the color plates generally fit together seamlessly. The backgrounds are uniformly white, with little foliage or other habitat information included in the illustrations.

We got to see 3 stork species

The paintings themselves are detailed and mostly very pleasing to study. I did have a little problem with the plates illustrating the swift families as well as the martin and swallow families. The images seem a little “rough” to my eye, and I wish they were a bit larger on the page to show more detail.

Appendixes list a further 80+ vagrant species (also illustrated) and 30+ doubtful species. A single handy index lists both scientific (italicized) and common species names.

Birds of India is another fine field guide from publisher Princeton Field Guides. The quality of the color plates and the amount of detailed information packed into this relatively compact field guide make this a top title for anyone interested in birds of the Indian Subcontinent and a must for any birder traveling to the region. I give Birds of India 4.5 Goldfinches out of 5.

Disclosure: This is my own original, honest review of Birds of India, a copy of which was provided to me free of charge by the publisher.

Book Review: In the Company of Birds

Posted on February 10th, 2012 in Book Review, Books, Rehabilitation

In the Company of Birds by Linda Johns. First published 1995. As reviewed and pictured: hardcover, 122 pages.

I’ve never had a pet bird, or had more than short visits with pet birds of friends or family. Over time in 2010 and 2011 I was lucky enough to spend some time with the education birds at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. These birds are absolutely not pets, but as a volunteer handler I had the chance to get to know them, just a bit. I have seen more experienced handlers in the company of these majestic raptors, and I am amazed at the relationships that can develop between human and bird. I can only hope to become as well-acquainted with avian friends as my fellow volunteers were.

Author Linda Johns is fortunate enough to have gotten to intimately know many avian friends. In her book In the Company of Birds she tells of some of her feathered companions, both pets and rehabilitation patients, many of whom share her home with her for an extended period. Pigeons Desmond and Molly, along with regular resident roosters Bubble and Squeak (raised from chickhood), are joined at various times by a starling, a duck, a grackle, an owl, and others. The stories of these individual birds are intertwined as the birds grow up and some transition from patient to wild and free visitor.

The detailed stories of the birds’ personal lives are fun to follow. Bubble and Squeak’s coming of age tales are a particular joy to read. Not all rehabilitation stories have happy endings, and the author honestly shares her successes and well as her failures. While I enjoyed reading about the various birds, their unique personalities, and about the hilarious predicaments in which the author frequently finds herself as a result of her avian charges, one part of the book fell a bit flat with me. Besides being an author and wild bird rehabber, Linda Johns is a fine artist, and throughout the book she presents avian situations as inspiration for her artwork. I couldn’t really follow the paragraphs where Johns translates her connection with the birds to her artwork, even when said artwork is reproduced in the pages of the book. These ties between bird spirituality and artwork didn’t come up so frequently to sour me on the book completely, though.

In the end I found this to be an enjoyable slice-of-rehabber-life read, and I give In the Company of Birds 3.5 Goldfinches out of 5.

Big Year DVD Giveaway Winner

Posted on January 31st, 2012 in Giveaway, Movie

Thank you to everyone who entered for a chance to win a copy of The Big Year on DVD!

I used a random name picker to select the winner. Congratulations to Ben S. on winning the DVD! Ben, I will contact you privately via email shortly.

For everyone else, remember that The Big Year is available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray today! Yay!

Big Year DVD Giveaway!

Posted on January 24th, 2012 in Contest, Giveaway, Products

The Big Year comes out on DVD and Blu-ray one week from today. I’m excited to be able to offer my readers the chance to win a copy of The Big Year on DVD! It’s super-easy to enter – just leave a comment below! The giveaway is open to anyone with a U.S. or Canada street address. Past blog contest winners are eligible. The winner will be picked via random drawing on Tuesday, January 31st; post your comment by 11:59PM on January 30th to be eligible for the drawing.

To help promote the release, Fox publicity came up with this cute personality quiz for birders. If you take the quiz, let me know which bird type you are. I’m a Bar-tailed Godwit. 🙂

Several other bird bloggers are giving away a copy of The Big Year on DVD. After leaving your comment below, check out these posts from other bird bloggers to increase your chances of winning!

Greg Miller Birding | Birding Is Fun | Nemesis Bird

The Big Year extended version review

Posted on January 24th, 2012 in Movie, Movie Review

The Big Year is coming to the home market on DVD and Blu-ray on January 31st. The Blu-ray includes an extended version of the movie, as well as some other extras not available on the DVD version.

In the extended version of The Big Year, the story is told not via Brad Harris but by the narrator of the intro in the theatrical version (John Cleese). Because of this, certain scenes are edited a bit differently, and the movie has a slightly different feel from what was shown in cinemas last fall. The relationship between Brad and Stu is still pivotal, but it has a less one-sided feel (an improvement). In the extended version we also learn just a bit more about Brad’s personal life, which may have been awkward if included in the narrated-by-Brad version of the story.

The narrator talks during many of the scenes that Brad narrates in the theatrical version of the film. In these scenes and in others, John Cleese’s narrator often uses bird analogies when speaking about the characters of The Big Year. Some of these are a bit cheesy, but for the most part they work. In a movie about birders, it makes sense to compare important moments in the lives of the main characters to the pivotal moments in the lives of birds.

Parts of the extended version are framed by scenes featuring a Ruby-throated Hummingbird; the female bird’s migration in particular transitions between certain parts of the movie in a very effective way. The bird is CGI and looks beautiful.

These small differences between the theatrical and extended versions of The Big Year actually make a big difference in the story; I loved what I saw in the cinema but I may have loved the extended version even more. If you enjoyed The Big Year in cinemas last fall, you’ll probably enjoy the extended version, too. And if you didn’t get a chance to see it (its run was quite short!), I suggest you give both versions a try. I give The Big Year extended version 5 Goldfinches out of 5.

Thank you to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Think Jam for providing me with a screener copy of The Big Year for review.