Saturday, March 31, 2012

Green-backed Lesser Goldfinch and More from San Jose, CA

Green-backed Lesser Goldfinch:


I was in San Jose, CA last month for a work conference- SMX West. It was great to get the latest SEO strategies and tips from the experts. I was there for 3 days, but I was so busy attending sessions I didn't have a chance to bird until the last day. It worked out better that way anyway- it was finally sunny and in the 60s for my final afternoon in San Jose when I had an hour to kill before my flight home.

Although San Jose is a large city, I was confident I could find a nice city park to bird. My strategy is to plot my central location (San Jose Convention Center) on Google Maps and then zoom out until I spot a green patch. I found Guadalupe River Park, which runs throughout the city.

There was an entrance just a couple blocks from the Convention Center, which was convenient. I spent some time reading the Google Place reviews, which were helpful because they made me aware that it might not be the safest place to go alone. Some of the comments mentioned homeless people living there, which isn't uncommon but good to be aware of. I remember when I used to bird at the Charles River in Watertown I would sometimes notice a homeless person's tent/shelter in the woods off the path. It's important to be aware of your surroundings and be on alert when you go birding alone. I only go during the day and try to choose areas that are well-populated. If I encounter someone who makes me feel uncomfortable I just move away from the secluded area and go back to the more populated part of the park/path. When you're following the scent of a rare or life bird it can be difficult to pull yourself away, but stop and think about what's more important- your personal safety.

Anyway, fortunately I didn't encounter anyone dangerous during my short time birding at Guadalupe River Park, although I did notice some homeless people working on their shelter in the woods across the river. They were shouting and hammering away, which made me notice them. I just simply moved back toward the road where it was more populated and where I wouldn't be bothering them and vice versa. Unfortunately as birders we're rather conspicuous with our binoculars and cameras. I didn't want them to think I was looking at them, which was difficult because there were some warblers down that end of the path, but it wasn't worth upsetting some unpredictable homeless people.

In addition to the Green-backed Lesser Goldfinch pictured above, I saw many other life birds. That's the most exciting part about traveling- getting to see new birds. Since I had never seen one before, the Lesser Goldfinch took some research to identify. I always start with the most distinguishing characteristic- in this case the fat beak typical of finches. Since most of my bird guides are for the Eastern U.S., California birds are not usually pictured. In the end it took some searches and my Crossley ID Guide to find this bird.

Allen's or Anna's? Hummingbird:

Female Allen's or Anna's? Hummingbird:

The Hummingbirds are another tricky ID for me. Although I had seen California hummingbirds before when I was in San Francisco, I needed to take a closer look at these. It's been hard for me to find exact matches in my Crossley ID Guide, or through Google Image searches. I'm leaning toward Anna's though. Advice?

Black Phoebe:

These Black Phoebes were very fun to watch. They were the alarm birds of the park- everywhere I walked they flitted around sounding the alarm call for other birds. Before I ID-ed this bird I called it the "shama" bird because the shape and contrasting colors reminded me of the White-rumped Shama I saw in Hawaii. 

Common Merganser:

Another life bird for me. I was surprised to see this pair swimming through the murky, trash-lined river as I looked down from the footbridge above. Just goes to show- always be on the lookout for birds!

Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler:

This as an interesting ID- it looked like a yellow-rumped warbler, but with a yellow throat. I just had to look up my Sibley Guide and look at the variations for the yellow-rumped.

Injured or diseased Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler:

Initially I thought this bird was preening after a bath, but the closer I looked I noticed some raw red spots on its neck. I'm not sure if this was the result of a fight, or perhaps some sort of disease.

And finally, I have a mystery bird. My initial guess is a Warbling Vireo, but I'm open to suggestions!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Google+ Tips for Birders

Do you have a Google+ page yet? On the fence about it? Well, if you also have a blog or website you want to promote you had been bite the bullet and do it. Participation in this new social network has a direct impact on your placement in Google Search Results so it's in your best interest to join Google+ and start being social!

As with any social network it's not just about you. Think about your best friend. Is this someone who dominates the conversation and makes everything about them? If you try to jump in with a story about something that happened to you, do they cut you off and direct the conversation back to them? The answer is most likely no. The best types of friends are the ones who treat you like an equal and have just as much time to listen to you as you make to listen to them.

And that's how social media should work. So now take that concept (social media should be reciprocal) and apply it to Google+. Birders on Google+ like to post their bird pictures to their Google+ profile. If they're good pictures then it's inevitable the people that have them in their Circles (equivalent of the Twitter "follow") will +1 (the equivalent of the Facebook "like") and comment on their pictures. What happens next? Well, if this a savvy Google+ birder they'll add those people to their Google+ Circles (assuming they aren't spammers and had nice things to say) and +1 and comment on their pictures when they show up in their Google+ newsfeed.

Now, on to Google search results. If ranking highly in Google (having your blog/website appear at the top of results) is important to you, here are some tips on how to use Google+ to your advantage.

1. Post links to your website on your Google+ profile.

Ideally the pages should have something search-worthy as the title (the bird name or popular birding spot) and a picture thumbnail.

2. Name your image files.

Rather than using the number-based names your digital camera automatically assigns, click F2 (on a PC) and rename that image using the bird species name. For more details see my post about image optimization for SEO.

3. +1 Good Pictures and Web Pages on Google+.

By being a good "friend" on Google+ to other birders and photographers, they'll return the favor and start +1-ing, sharing, and commenting on your own pictures and links.

4. +1 Good pictures and Web Pages in Google Search Results.

In this example I was trying to identify a warbler I saw in California two days ago. It looked like a female yellow-rumped warbler but it had a yellow throat. So, I searched "female yellow-rumped warbler" clicked on the Images tab of Google Search Results and found this very helpful photo of one with a yellow throat that identified the bird as a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Audubon's Population. I +1-ed it because I wanted to make sure I sent Google the message that this was a helpful result for my search "female yellow-rumped warbler."

This might seem a little out of the ordinary but it's incredibly important. Again, by being a good friend and +1-ing good pictures and web pages, your friends will be likely to return the favor and do the same for you. And it doesn't hurt to spread the word about this concept since it's new to a lot of people who aren't familiar with SEO. Mention it next time you're birding with friends and talking about your blogs.

5. Participate in photo themes.

One of the coolest things about Google+ (and relevant to birders) is abundance of photo themes. What are photo themes? They're prefaced by hashtags (#) and many include the day of the week in their name (for example #songbirdsaturday). One of the most popular bird photo themes is #birdpoker where you throw down your "card" to try and beat what's already been thrown.

I know that's a lot of information, but hopefully you'll find one or more of these Google+ tips for birders helpful! Find BirdingGirl on Google+ and feel free to comment there, or here on my blog.