Over the last decade, the explosion of books related to birding has seen the formation of a subgenre focused on the GISS concept. GISS (typically pronounced jizz) is an acronym for General Impression, Size, and Shape. This refers to the method of identifying a bird by visible features other than the color and markings. It’s how most seasoned birders make split-second identifications in the field. Over time, GISS has come to be a catch-all term for the holistic approach to bird identification where distribution, time of year, habitat, and behavioral considerations blend with size and shape (and good old fashioned field marks!) to make a bird knowable in an instant.
Birding in the National Parks
What would the holidays be without the Christmas Bird Count? We’re here again to take a look at some selected CBC activities in the national parks this holiday season.
Mountain Bluebirds. They’re the western cousin to the familiar Eastern Bluebird and a treat for birders throughout the mountainous terrain of Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and…Big Cypress National Preserve?
Predicting the winter movements of semi-migratory birds can be tricky business. Sometimes birds move south because food has become scarce in the north, as was the case with Pine Siskins last winter. Other times, an abundance of food creates a hyper-successful breeding season that results in overpopulation and migration south.
If “October” and “travel” are in the same story, odds are good that it’s an article about the best places to see fall foliage. Of course, to those of us with birds perpetually on the brain, October is the conclusion of fall migrant season. With that in mind, I got to wondering about the best national park to maximize migrant-watching and leaf-peeping in one trip.
Barrier islands play incredible roles for migrating shorebirds, offering them a place to stop, rest, and refuel. At Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, the beaches and marshes are important to common, least, and roseate terns and a number of other shorebird species during their migrations.
It looks like I have a new national park to add to my “must bird” list. Earlier this month the Bahamas unveiled Joulter Cays National Park, and it is truly a park for the birds. The christening of the national park is the result of several years of work by the National Audubon Society, the Bahamas National Trust, and the Bahamian government.
There are worse places to be on a late summer or early fall weekend than Cape Cod, especially if you’re after birds. The entire peninsula from Cuttyhunk Island to Monomoy and up the outer cape through Cape Cod National Seashore is a shorebird haven as well as a migrant trap for songbirds headed south down the Atlantic Coast. The waters off the cape aren’t too shabby for birding either, with seabirds galore to be had on pelagic birding trips.
Caves aren’t the best places to go birding. Sure, birders will gladly watch (and list!) a bat when the birding is slow - they do have wings, after all. Still, the birding tends to be much better above ground.
Autumn travel may be all about the colors. Leaf-watchers head to Acadia, Shenandoah, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks in droves. Traffic jams aside, that’s a fine way to spend September and October. But before the leaves change, the birdwatchers are out looking for a lot of brown. The first weekend of September, after all, is World Shorebirds Day.