Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jan 23 (Day 23) - In West Philadelphia, born and raised, On the playground is where I spent most of my days.....

Now, almost everyone in my cohort will recognize the TV show from which the above quote was pulled. Before he became big movie star, Philly's own Will Smith, starred in a TV show called "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air". This is a line from the intro theme of this now classic 1990's TV show. For those feeling nostalgic click here, or better yet, here.

So why start with this? Well, I am hunkered down In West Philly trying to keep warm at the moment. I was completely housebound yesterday as the roads were still a complete disaster after the snow. Looking at the roads during my walk this morning, I thought they looked good enough to test with the bike. I decided to ride the 13 miles to a friend's house in West Philly this afternoon; This would put me within 5 miles of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (Tinicum, informally) where a Northern shrike has been seen with some regularity for the past month. In fact, in speaking with local birders today, it appears as if this same bird has been in the exact same area of the refuge for 3 winters now. This is my last realistic shot at this bird this year. How do I know this? Looking at filtered data from eBird, we can see Northern shrike sightings in the Mid-Atlantic region from January 2014. Do you see that purple box just west of Philadelphia? That represents the Tinicum Northern shrike! You can also see that there are zero eBird reports of Northern shrike any further south, so basically it's this bird or bust for me. Maybe I could get lucky and find one not annotated here, but that is highly unlikely.

For those unfamiliar with eBird, it is worth taking a moment to comment on this outstanding project that is run by The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. The basic idea is that individual birders create accounts with eBird and input bird sightings into the database. All of the user generated data is pooled and can be accessed by anyone, even those who do not themselves have eBird accounts. In essence, eBird is crowd-sourced data on the whereabouts, distributions, and movements of every bird species in North America (and beyond!). Birders such as myself can access this data to see exactly where specific birds are being seen. It is a remarkably powerful tool. A recent write-up of eBird's utility from the New York Times can be found here. As a last example of eBird's utility, recent sightings of Dodo can be seen here:

All jokes aside, tomorrow's outing centers on the shrike. Beyond that I am not 100% sure how things are going to go. Much of my movements and travels will be dictated by road conditions. In an ideal world I'd ride to Newark DE on Saturday, Eastern MD on Sunday, Baltimore on Tuesday and DC on Wednesday. This plan must remain flexible, and I will try my best to keep people posted on what I'm doing as I navigate the frozen tundra that is my life right now.

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