6 Free to Low-Cost Resources to Teach You Calculus in a Fun and Interactive Way

In his new book, Everyday Calculus: Discovering the Hidden Math All around Us, Oscar E. Fernandez shows that calculus can actually be fun and applicable to our daily lives. Whether you’re trying to regulate your sleep schedule or find the best seat in the movie theater, calculus can help, and Fernandez’s accessible prose conveys complex mathematical concepts in terms understandable even to readers with no prior knowledge of calculus. Fernandez has also provided a list below of his favorite affordable resources for teaching yourself calculus, both on- and offline.

Princeton University Press offers several other books to help you master this most notorious of the mathematics. If you’re already good at calculus, but want to be great at it, check out Adrian Banner’s The Calculus Lifesaver: All the Tools You Need to Excel at Calculus, an informal but comprehensive companion to any single-variable calculus textbook. For high school mathletes and aspiring zombie hunters of all ages, there’s also Colin Adams’s Zombies and Calculus, an interactive reading experience set at a small liberal arts college during a zombie apocalypse. Readers learn as they go, using calculus to defeat the walking dead.

Calculus. There, I said it. If your heart skipped a beat, you might be one of the roughly 1 million students–or the parent of one of these brave souls–that will take the class this coming school year. Math is already tough, you might have been told, and calculus is supposed to be the “make or break” math class that may determine whether you have a future in STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics); no pressure huh?

But you’ve got a little under two months to go. That’s plenty of time to brush up on your precalculus, learn a bit of calculus, and walk in on day one well prepared–assuming you know where to start.

That’s where this article comes in. As a math professor myself I use several free to low-cost resources that help my students prepare for calculus. I’ve grouped these resources below into two categories: Learning Calculus and Interacting with Calculus.

Learning Calculus.

1. Paul’s online math notes–an interactive website (free).

This online site from Paul Dawkins, math professor at Lamar University, is arguably the best (free) online site for learning calculus. In a nutshell, it’s an interactive textbook. There are tons of examples, each followed by a complete solution, and various links that take you to different parts of the course as needed (i.e., instead of saying, for example, “recall in Section 2.1…” the links take you right back to the relevant section). I consider Prof. Dawkins’ site to be just as good, if not better, at teaching calculus than many actual calculus textbooks (and it’s free!). I should also mention that Prof. Dawkins’ site also includes fairly comprehensive precalculus and algebra sections.

2. Khan Academy–short video lectures (free).

A non-profit run by educator Salman Khan, the Khan academy is a popular online site featuring over 6,000 (according to Wikipedia) video mini-lectures–typically lasting about 15 minutes–on everything from art history to mathematics. The link I’ve included here is to the differential calculus set of videos. You can change subjects to integral calculus, or to trigonometry or algebra once you jump onto the site.

3. MIT online lectures–actual course lectures in video format (free).

One of the earliest institutions to do so, MIT records actual courses and puts up the lecture videos and, in some cases, homeworks, class notes, and exams on its Open Courseware site. The link above is to the math section. There you’ll find several calculus courses, in addition to more advanced math courses. Clicking on the videos may take you to iTunes U, Apple’s online library of video lectures. Once there you can also search for “calculus” and you’ll find other universities that have followed in MIT’s footsteps and put their recorded lectures online.

4. How to Ace Calculus: The Streetwise Guide, by Colin Adams, Abigail Thompson, and Joel Hass

If you’re looking for something in print, this book is a great resource. The book will teach you calculus, probably have you laughing throughout due to the authors’ good sense of humor, and also includes content not found in other calculus books, like tips for taking calculus exams and interacting with your instructor. You can read the first few pages on the book’s site.

Interacting with Calculus.

1. Calculus java applets–online interactive demonstrations of calculus topics(free).

There are many sites that include java-based demonstrations that will help you visualize math. Two good ones I’ve come across are David Little’s site and theUniversity of Notre Dame’s site. By dragging a point or function, or changing specific parameters, these applets make important concepts in calculus come alive; they also make it far easier to understand certain things. For example, take this statement: “as the number of sides of a regular polygon inscribed in a circle increases, the area of that polygon better approximates the area of the circle.” Even if you followed that, text is no comparison to this interactive animation.

One technological note: Because these are java applets, some of you will likely run into technology issues (especially if you’re on a Mac). For example, your computer may block these applets because it thinks that they are malicious. Here is a workaround from Java themselves that may help you in these cases.

2. Everyday Calculus, by Oscar E. Fernandez.

Self-promotion aside, calculus teachers often sell students (and parents) on the need to study calculus by telling them about how applicable the subject is. The problem is that the vast majority of the applications usually discussed are to things that many of us will likely never experience, like space shuttle launches and the optimization of company profits. The result: math becomes seen as an abstract subject that, although has applications, only become “real” if you become a scientist or engineer.

In  Everyday Calculus I flip this script and start with ordinary experiences, like taking a shower and driving to work, and showcase the hidden calculus behind these everyday events and things. For example, there’s some neat trigonometry that helps explain why we sometimes wake up feeling groggy, and thinking more carefully about how coffee cools reveals derivatives at work. This sort of approach makes it possible to use the book as an experiential learning tool to discover the calculus hidden all around you.

With so many good resources it’s hard to know where to start and how to use them all effectively. Let me suggest one approach that uses the resources above synergistically.

For starters, the link to Paul’s site takes you to the table of contents of his site. The topic ordering there is roughly the same as what you’d find in a calculus textbook. So, you’d probably want to start with his review of functions. From there, the next steps depend on the sort of learning experience you want.

1. If you’re comfortable learning from Paul’s site you can just stay there, using the other resources to complement your learning along the way.

2. If you learn better from lectures, then use Paul’s topics list and jump on the Khan Academy site and/or the MIT and iTunes U sites to find video lectures on the corresponding topics.

3. If you’re more of a print person, then How to Ace Calculus would be a great way to start. That book’s topics ordering is pretty much the same as Paul’s, so there’d be no need to go back and forth.

Whatever method you decided on, I still recommend that you use Paul’s site, the interactive java applets, and Everyday Calculus. These three resources, used together, will allow you to completely interact with the calculus you’ll be learning. From working through examples and checking your answer (on Paul’s site), to interacting directly with functions, derivatives, and integrals (on the java applet sites), to exploring and experiencing the calculus all around you (Everyday Calculus), you’ll gain an appreciation and understanding of calculus that will no doubt put you miles ahead of your classmates come September.

This article is cross-posted with The Huffington Post with permission of the author.

Recommended Reading:

 Fernandez_Everyday cover Everyday Calculus: Discovering the Hidden Math All around Us by Oscar E. Fernandez
The Calculus Lifesaver The Calculus Lifesaver: All the Tools You Need to Excel in Calculus by Adrian Banner
 7-18 Zombies  Zombies & Calculus by Colin Adams

PUP Celebrates Mothers — Mom is Queen Bee

This Mother’s Day, Princeton University Press is trading in the perfumed soap and jewelry for a different type of celebration for moms. We’ve gathered a group of experts on a range of interesting subjects and compiled a group of mom-related shorts. Zumba class instructor or Pinterest lover – we have a special story for your mom. We hope that this series will provide you with some interesting conversation topics to get family members thinking (and chuckling) during that Mother’s Day brunch.

moms

This one is for the garden glove wearers and the hot glue gun wielders. Whether she is decorating for your family’s holidays or keeping up with the “clean sheet day” schedule (while balancing her work schedule), a mom knows just how to make a house a home. We love to show mom that she is the queen bee, so this Mother’s Day, let’s take a look at how our fuzzy friends set up shop.

TWO
The Life of a Queen Bee

Paul H. Williams, Robbin W. Thorp, Leif L. Richardson & Sheila R. Colla
Co-authors of BUMBLE BEES OF NORTH AMERICA: AN IDENTIFICATION GUIDE

Mother’s Day is now an international holiday (though it falls on different days depending on where you live) that honors motherhood and recognizes the contributions mothers make to their children and their families. It is celebrated with gifts of cards, flowers, and tokens of affection; mothers are often treated to brunch, pampered in various ways, and generally treated like “queen bees.” So, how will the real queen bees spend mother’s day? We asked the authors of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide for some insight on how these hard-working bumbles might spend their Mother’s Day.

Bumble bee queens have it rough. After spending the winter alone and underground, they emerge with one goal in mind–creating the perfect nest.  In order to achieve this goal, they must find some spring flowers from which they can gather nectar and pollen to replenish their energy and then they must locate the perfect spot to start a nest.  The nest site has to be protected from the elements like rain and direct sun and camouflaged from predators.  It must be the right size, unoccupied, and have good access to nearby wildflowers (although they won’t bloom for a few more weeks). If you ever see a large bumble bee flying in a zig zag pattern near the base of a building or inspecting under leaf litter, this is likely a queen searching for that perfect home.

Once she finds a good spot, the queen collects enough pollen to form a little ball to lay her eggs in and fashions a cup to store some nectar.  She then starts the busy work of laying eggs, which she will continue to do until the end of summer or early fall.  In a queen’s lifetime she can lay hundreds of eggs. Much like human babies, her offspring require a lot of care and attention. She keeps the eggs warm by shivering her body to generate heat and when the larvae emerge, she flies back and forth from flowers to nest, carrying pollen and nectar to feed a growing army of children.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The earlier eggs hatch into female workers who take over the hard work of foraging and feeding their siblings, protecting and caring for the nest. The queen bee, relieved of these responsibilities, is free to lay more eggs and generally rule the nest.

Toward the end of the summer the queen will switch and start producing male and new queen eggs.  These offspring will mature and leave the nest to mate.  The mated queens then locate a suitable overwintering spot alone while the rest of their siblings perish with the oncoming winter. They will hibernate underground and wait for the spring to start the important work of producing the next generation of buzzing pollinators.

A queen bee guarding her eggs

A queen bee guarding her eggs

 

 

Photo by Frank Mayne from London, UK (Clara’s Card) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Marty from Manitou Springs, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

PUP Celebrates Mothers — Amazon Style

This Mother’s Day, Princeton University Press is trading in the perfumed soap and jewelry for a different type of celebration for moms. We’ve gathered a group of experts on a range of interesting subjects and compiled a group of mom-related shorts. Zumba class instructor or Pinterest lover – we have a special story for your mom. We hope that this series will provide you with some interesting conversation topics to get family members thinking (and chuckling) during that Mother’s Day brunch.

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ONE
Mover–Groover Mothers

This bit is for the aerobics class attendees and soccer game cheerers. Is your mom just a bit competitive when it comes to Words with Friends? Or maybe she has found college dorm room packing to be a new form of strength training (did she have this many shoes when she was your age)? Whatever it is that keeps your mom active, we tip our hats to her. For those on-the-go and up-for-anything moms, we bring you a look back at some ancient, active mothers.

How Would the Ancient Amazons Celebrate Mother’s Day?

Adrienne Mayor
Author of THE AMAZONS (Sept. 2014) and National Book Award finalist, THE POISON KING

The goddess Cybele

The goddess Cybele

According to ancient myths, the fierce horsewomen-archers called “Amazons” were the antithesis of ideal womanhood, the opposites of the docile stay-at-home moms of classical Greece. Some even claimed that the name amazon meant “without a breast” in Greek and insisted that the women mutilated themselves in order to shoot a bow more easily. Greek poets described Amazons beating drums and performing bellicose war dances for the stern virgin goddess of the hunt, Artemis–definitely not a mother figure.

The Greeks came up with a bunch of contradictory notions about Amazons. But no one imagined a sentimental picture of maternal, nurturing mothers like those celebrated in Mother’s Day cards. Amazons were either man-hating killer-virgins who refused marriage, rejected motherhood, and gloried in making war–or else they were lusty, domineering women who used random men for sex, stealing their sperm in order to perpetuate their women-only society. Lurid stories claimed that Amazons only raised their baby girls and abandoned or mistreated infant boys, breaking their legs or even killing them. None of this is the stuff of Hallmark cards.

Yet archaeological discoveries tell a different story. The historical models for mythic Amazons were warlike women of nomadic Eurasian tribes, and their graves contain battle-scarred female skeletons buried with arrows and spears. But many of these women were mothers too; next to their quivers are sometimes the remains of children who died prematurely.

Archaeological evidence also reveals that real-life Amazons worshiped Cybele, the great mother goddess of Anatolia (her rites required that men castrate themselves). Amazon family trees were matrilineal–the famous Amazon queens of myth could trace the names of their illustrious warrior mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. So, although there would not be flowers or breakfast in bed, the Amazons would definitely understand the concept of daughters honoring their mothers on Mother’s Day. Amazon sons, maybe not so much–and don’t even ask about Father’s Day!

“Tea, Earl Gray, Hot” or the most energy ineffecient cuppa ever

This is crossposted from Chuck Adler’s new blog called Wizards, Aliens, and Starships where he will be posting about physics and math found in our favorite science fiction and fantasy tv shows, films, and books. Here, he reveals the most inefficient way to make a cup of tea.

Cup of tea (High Speed Photography)-MJSometimes the best things in life are the simplest ones. Perhaps my favorite holiday gift ever was an electric kettle, a device whose only purpose in life is to boil water — but boil it efficiently, in a fraction of the time it would take for a kettle on the stove, and for a fraction of the energy, too. It’s simplicity itself — it has a coil which a current runs through. The coil gets hot, heats water in a chamber sitting above it, and voila! Boiling water. By my estimates, the electricity costs are about a tenth to a fifth of a cent for every cup of tea I brew.

The 23rd-century designers of the USS Enterprise seem to have lost this technology. To get a cup of tea, Captain Jean-Luc Picard stands next to a little box in his room, says “Tea, Earl Gray, hot”, and a cup of tea is beamed in. It seems to be an offshoot of transporter technology: you’re either beaming a cup made before from somewhere else, or assembling it whole from “pure energy” (whatever that means.) Either way, it seems to be a damn-fool way to make a cuppa.

E=mc squared, right? Each kilogram of matter takes 90,000 trillion joules of energy to create. The water in a cup of tea has a mass of about one-third of a kilo, so this is 30,000 trillion joules. But no technology is perfect: if the replicator is only 99.99% efficient, we are wasting 30 trillion joules into heat – enough to heat 100 million kilograms of water for tea… Just why are we doing it this way, again?

 
For more math and physics from Star Trek, Harry Potter, Dresden Files, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more, check out Chuck’s new book: Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Sabattus Pond Season

How To Be A Better BirderDerek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and blogger for Maine Birding Field Notes, has been spending all Migration Season birding and keeping track of his results. While he’s always avidly posting on his Facebook page, he also recently posted to his blog to report some of his more recent findings at the Sabattus Pond.


Sabattus Pond Season-in-Review

Sabattus Pond was frozen on Monday morning, as I expected, thanks to this recent bout of unseasonably cold weather.  While 35 Mallards, 3 Hooded Mergansers, 2 American Black Ducks, and 1 Mallard x black duck hybrid were present in the outlet stream, this likely brings my Sabattus birding season to a close.

But it is just after Sabattus’s freeze-up that LakeAuburn is its most productive.  Today, 117 Canada Geese, 58 Greater Scaup, 46 Lesser Scaup, 41 Ruddy Ducks, 22 Common Goldeneyes, 8 Hooded Mergansers, 1 Bufflehead, and 1 continuing hen Black Scoter were tallied in a less-than-exhaustive search of the large lake.  The Black Scoter is a great bird inland, and she’s been present for at least five weeks now.  Meanwhile, among the Canada Geese, there was this funky mutt – apparently a hybrid with some sort of domestic thing.
CANGhybrid1,LakeAuburn,12-2-13

CANGhybrid2,LakeAuburn,12-2-13

Between visiting the two lakes, I scoured Upper Street in Turner for Snowy Owls (none) or other raptors (just one Red-tailed Hawk), but I did happen upon a small flock of 35 Horned Larks that contained two Lapland Longspurs.  They were feeding at the edge of Pearl Road, taking advantage of where the plow had scraped the sides of ice and snow.  I got this lucky shot of one of the Lapland Longspurs in flight with the Horned Larks.  Unfortunately, the light mist and heavy cloud cover prevented a really great shot.
DSC_0154_LALOwithHOLA,Turner,12-2-13

But back to waterfowl…

Sabattus Pond is one of my favorite birding locations from mid-October through freeze-up.  The diversity of ducks is rarely matched in this part of Maine, and the proximity and ability to study birds (such as Lesser vs. Greater Scaup) is unsurpassed.  Each fall I tell myself I needed to visit Sabattus more often, so this fall I committed to visiting once a week, beginning on 10/30 – I would have started a little earlier in the month, but the weather at the time had been so warm that waterfowl were not yet arriving en masse prior to the end of the month.

I tallied all waterbirds (except for Herring and Ring-billed gulls) on each visit.

On each visit, I also visited LakeAuburn, which is a much different body of water (deeper, sandier, and apparently without the invasive Chinese Mystery Snail that provides the sustenance for most of the birds on Sabattus).  Note, however, that as the numbers of ducks decrease on Sabattus, they begin to increase on LakeAuburn – the last lake to freeze in the region.

I can’t help but wonder if some of the birds on the lake on Monday would return to Sabattus if a warm spell opens the pond back up, and if it does, I am sure birds from points north might drop in as well as they are frozen out of lakes and rivers.  In other words, the duck-watching season on Sabattus may not be over yet, but I think I will be turning my attention elsewhere unless it warms up dramatically.

Meanwhile, on all of my visits to the two lakes, I added at least a few other stops in between in the hopes of finally finding a really “good” bird in Androscoggin County (away from Sabattus, that is).  Uh…nope.  My only real highlights away from the two lakes were the two Lapland Longspurs on Monday.  My rarity drought in AndroscogginCounty might continue, but the waterbird watching is certainly exceptional.

By the way, in a series of spring visits, I have found very, very few ducks on Sabattus Pond, for reasons unknown.  Therefore, other than my annual check on Maine Maple Sunday, I’ll have to anxiously await next October!

click here to see the rest of this post, including Lovitch’s birding tallies for his trips


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Derek Lovitch’s Mystery Gull

How To Be A Better BirderDerek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and blogger for Maine Birding Field Notes, spent another chilly week out and about birding before Migration Season comes to an end. While he’s always avidly posting on his Facebook page, he also recently posted to his blog to report some of his more recent findings, including a mystery bird!


A Day Along the New Hampshire Seacoast

It was like birding in another world yesterday as Kristen Lindquist and I headed south of the border…to the New Hampshire Seacoast.  For one, we saw birders everywhere!  Well, everywhere where there wasn’t wall-to-wall development.  And goodness, even in winter, there are a lot of people around here (relatively speaking of course). Yup, we weren’t in Maine anymore!

But I have a lifetime listing goal of seeing 200 species in every state, and my goal was to hit that mark in New Hampshire by the end of this year.  This goal is not for any “total ticks” target, or submission to any listing competitions, or anything else other than an excuse and occasional extra motivation to see more parts of the country.  The 200 number seems a reasonable goal to me for most states (I won’t reach it in Hawai’i!) that involves seeing a fair sample of what a state has to offer, and usually in multiple seasons – whether its scenery, food, or other interests (i.e. Rutgers football bowl games!), there’s always a good reason to travel near and far and lots of fun to be had in the process.  And of course I will be birding in between anyway, so long ago I began keeping track of it.

So the 200 goal was born, and it was time to get to know my neighboring state a little better.  Outside of the White Mountains (where I love to bird, hike, and of course, guide), I really didn’t know New Hampshire birding and birding sites very well, and I am happy to say that has changed this year.  While I joked with friends about “never having to bird in NH again!” after the goal was met, I did learn quite a bit about birding the state in the process.  But yeah, I am partial to birding in Maine.

Anyway, I have been watching the NH listserve and plotting my visit.  I needed 5 more species, and I kept an eye on when a handful of uncommon to rare birds joined the more expected species that I “needed.”  Seeing recent reports from the Seacoast – and seeing that my days off will be limited (aka: likely non-existent) from now to Christmas, I decided yesterday would be the day, despite early morning ice that slowed our drive (lots of cars off the Turnpike yet again) and persistent drizzle and occasional light rain.

We began in the Hampton Marsh, where the high tide was pushing Horned Larks to the edges. Check. We then ran into Ben Griffith and Lauren Kras, and then joined them in a Snowy Owl search.  Unfortunately, this was to no avail.

Pulling into Hampton Beach State   Park, the two hen King Eiders (197) performed nicely.  I teased out a few Purple Sandpipers (199) from the flock of 100 or so Dunlin (198), and ran into more friends.
DSC_0062_henKIEI1,HamptonHarbor,12-1-13_edited-1

DSC_0054_henKIEIwithCOEI1,HamptonHarbor,12-1-13_edited-1
Compare the “Queen” Eider with the hen Common Eider on the right. Note especially the concavity of the bill, the face pattern, and the cooler, grayer tone to the plumage.

After chatting and enjoying the eiders for a bit, Kristen and I grabbed some lunch and then returned to the coast.  Snowy Owl would make a nice milestone bird.

Shortly thereafter, I received a text from Ben “Nelson’s-type Gull on Eel Pond,” followed by “Correction – possible Thayer’s Gull.”  And off we went.

Arriving at Eel Pond, the bird in question immediately stuck out, and I set about studying and photographing it.  While it seemed that people were at least leaning heavily towards a Thayer’s Gull by this point, I had my doubts.  But, I also have limited experience with 2nd Cycle Thayer’s Gulls.  I also did not have a better explanation for this odd bird at the time.  But Thayer’s Gulls are tough, 2nd Cycle gulls are a pain in the ass, and a rarity like this (potential 6th NH record) of course warranted extra scrutiny.

I began to take notes, and even a little feather-sketching.  I took lots of photos.  Birders came and went.  Ben, Lauren, Jason Lambert, and I continued to work on the bird.  Kristen headed to the car to check on the Patriots and to warm up.  She was clearly the smart one.

There were a series of things that bothered me about this bird being a Thayer’s Gull, and I scribbled those down in my notes:
-          The primaries were multiple shades darker than any other part of the bird.
-          The tertials were extensively marbled.
-          The bill was so extensively pale with such a finely demarcated black tip for a bird that was otherwise not very advanced in plumage.
-          The bill looked rather large and heavy, especially at the tip.
-          The eye color was orange-yellow, not light, but definitely not dark.
- The legs were dingy pinkish-flesh.

IMG_1979_gull1

DSC_0106_NEGU_spreadingwing1

IMG_1961_gull_facingaway

While none of these features really eliminate Thayer’s Gull, they are consistent with “Nelson’s Gull,” the name given to Herring x Glaucous Gull hybrids as well.  But try as we might, we could not get the bird to fly closer.  I never saw it with the wing fully outstretched, but the bird was photographed well in flight earlier.

It was not a big bird, and looked smaller than most – but definitely not all – of the nearby Herring Gulls.  Most Nelson’s I’ve seen are noticeably larger, but large gulls are notoriously variable.  But look at this shot – it sure doesn’t look small compared to the 1st cycle Herring Gull on the left!  And see that deep build?  It doesn’t look at slim and dainty as many Thayer’s look (speaking of variable – and subjective – gull criteria).  The head looks rather blocky, and the bill was rather hefty.
DSC_0086_NEGUwithsmallHERG,EelPond,12-1-13

Meanwhile, shortly after my arrival and the beginnings of ponder the mystery gull, a Carolina Wren sang…number 200!  Yeah, it was pretty obvious to all that my NH birding has mostly been in the mountains, but this was a silly hole that somehow was not filled on previous coastal trips.  Mission accomplished.  So I went back to pondering the gull.  And, with daylight fading and the long drive (especially for Kristen) still ahead of us, we hurried over to RyeState   Park to catch up with a Snowy Owl (201), which was one of our real targets of the day.  With at least 12 birds seen along the coast on Saturday, we were surprised that – despite the amount of birders combing the coast – it took us all day to see a Snowy (it sounds like a total of 2 or 3 were seen along the coast by day’s end).
SNOW1,RyeStatePark,12-1-13_edited-1

Driving home, we listened to the Pats once again stage a come-from-behind victory, and as Kristen departed, I hit our library and the internet for some gull study time.  After reviewing my photos of the standing gull, and comparing that to the photos in references – especially Howell & Dunn – and online, I was definitely leaning more towards Thayer’s Gull, as most of my concerns seemed to be accounted for.  But I needed to see the spread wing.

And then Ben forwarded me Jason’s photos.  My response was simple, “Ewww.”  The extensively dark primaries were as extensive and dark as they appeared in the field.  While darker Thayer’s can show dark shading bleeding onto the inner webs of the outermost primaries, the outer three primaries on the Eel Pond bird were clearly wholly dark, and the dark was extensive on the next two as well.  I just don’t think a Thayer’s can show that.  While no single field mark alone can define any gull, this very well could be enough on its own to eliminate a Thayer’s (or, dare I say it, a pure – whatever the hell that means – one), a bird known for its “picket fence” primaries of dark outer webs contrasting with pale inner webs.  Adding that with the other features – including the structure of the head, bill, and body – I’m unable to call this a Thayer’s Gull.  Short of a DNA sample, it’s a “Nelson’s Gull” to me, although I think there is some argument to be made for this to not be a first-generation hybrid.  I sent the link to Jason’s photos (which are far superior to my own) to a handful of friends, and they have so far concurred that this is a Nelson’s-type gull.  But, gulls are one of those birds that everyone can have a different opinion on, so I await responses from others.  I just hated to rain on the parade, especially since Lauren and Ben were so helpful in my little listing quest that initiated the day.

Ahh, large gulls. The Snowy Owl was easier to identify. I like Snowy Owls.


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Maine Birding Field Notes-Update!

How To Be A Better BirderDerek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and blogger for Maine Birding Field Notes, knows that as migration season continues, his feathered friends will be continuing south for the winter as the cold creeps up on all of us. While he’s always avidly posting on his Facebook page, he also recently posted to his blog to report some of his more recent findings, including a snowy owl!


Cape Neddick through Wells – Snowy Owl!

Jeannette and I birded from Cape Neddick through Wells on Tuesday, seeing a really pleasant variety of birds in the process in the calm before the storm. Delayed by a snowy start and somewhat slick roads (OK, not slick if didn’t drive like it was a dry race car track – 7 cars were off the road between Freeport and York, however) that backed up traffic (“Hey, there’s a car in the ditch, let me look!”), we didn’t reach the Nubble neighborhood until almost 9:00, but by then the snow had ended, the ceiling lifted a bit, and a very light wind made for decent  – albeit a bit raw – birding conditions.  Although we didn’t have anything earth-shattering, we did have a fair number of “good birds.”

Without a day off together in December (the store is open seven days a week from Thanksgiving to Christmas), our annual late November run through our usual route is the last time we focus on thickets and migrant traps in the hopes for lingering migrants and rare passerines.  Next time, waterbirds will be more of a focus.  And the limited number of non-resident passerines that we detected today (other than Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows, and a scattered few Yellow-rumped Warblers) confirms that – as did the impressive, and growing, quantity of waterbirds.

Three Carolina Wrens was the highlight of a thorough check of the Nubble neighborhood thickets, although we did have a group of about 40 Snow Buntings fly over.  45 Black Scoters, 13 Purple Sandpipers, 8 Great Cormorants, 6 Harlequin Ducks, etc at The Nubble were a sign of things to come along the shoreline.

Passerines were few and far between along Marginal Way and the adjacent neighborhood, but great numbers of waterfowl along the shoreline more than made up for it.  As with everywhere we looked at the ocean today, all three scoters were present in numbers, including a close and talkative group of about 100 Black Scoters.  Lots of Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, and a total of 20 or 21 Harlequin Ducks were also present, along with a half-dozen Purple Sandpipers.

To read the rest of this post, click here!


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Migration Quiz Monday: It’s a Feathered Frenzy!

Stephenson_WarblerGGreetings bird-lovers! I know technically it’s Thursday (Happy Thanksgiving and first day of Hanukkah by the way!), but today is our ultimate Migration Quiz Monday! Our favorite warblers experts, Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, authors of The Warbler Guide, have been incredibly busy touring for their book and attending birding festivals, while still trying to fit in their favorite pastime, birding!

They finally got a chance to post a slew of quiz questions and answers on their blog a few days ago, but rather than posting each one and crowding up your nest- I mean computer screen- with links and posts and bird puns, I thought it would be easier if I gave you just one simple link to click on and check out all of their quizzes at once at The Warbler Guide.com. Enjoy!


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Derek Lovitch’s Rarity Season So Far

How To Be A Better BirderAccording to Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and blogger for Maine Birding Field Notes, Rarity Season has been great this year for birders. He’s been avidly posting on his Facebook page about his finds, but in case you haven’t been following along, here’s a little summation thus far that he recently posted to his blog.


Rarity Season-to-date in Review

I hope you didn’t think that my lack of blogging of late equated to a lack of birding!  Quite the contrary, actually – it is Rarity Season afterall!  I’ve just been posting more frequent, shorter updates on our store’s Facebook page (you can scroll through the timeline here to see recent posts), especially since I have found myself a bit over-extended with a variety of other projects at the moment – I’ve been working late most nights recently to make up for my morning birding gallivanting.

In fact, I have been birding even harder than usual – if you can believe that!  Spurred on by extraordinary late October finds of an “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler at Fort Foster and a Bell’s Vireo (a state bird for me!) on Bailey Island, I found myself somehow even more motivated to beat the bush through the first half of November.  In addition to the 10th Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup that I organize every year, I worked hard at various traditional hotspots, favorite late fall patches, and various attempts to think “outside the box,” such as walking the 4.5 miles into work today to check a handful of swales and thickets en route (not very productive, except for the exercise, for the record)

While Audubon’s Warbler and Bell’s Vireo are going to be tough to beat – the early-rarity-season bar was set awfully high! – I have had some outstanding birding in November, even if there has yet to be another “Mega.” Personal highlights in the first half of November include a very nice variety of lingering (pioneering?) warblers, a Yellow-breasted Chat, multiple Orange-crowned Warblers (I’ve had four this season to date), huge numbers of Ruddy Ducks on Sabattus Pond, and overall just really good birding with good diversity.

Elsewhere around the state, current highlights include a Northern Hawk-Owl in Lincoln – not a vagrant in the “Rarity Season” sort of way, but exciting nonetheless! And perhaps that, along with an early Snowy Owl report from Biddeford Pool, portends a decent owl irruption this winter? There certainly won’t be any winter finches around this year.). Other birders have detected a variety of late warblers around the state (wow, November Chestnut-sided in Falmouth!), and lots of lingering shorebirds – especially in Scarborough Marsh. But as far as the first half of November usually goes, there have been no truly exceptional birds. Looking around the region, we see goodies such as a Calliope Hummingbird in New Hampshire, A Black-chinned Hummingbird in Connecticut, and the usual fun array of rarities in Massachusetts (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Western Tanager, American Avocet, etc). However, it is an ultra-spiffy adult Ross’s Gull near Montreal that is the real headliner of the fall in the Northeast so far (and yes, I am being tempted to chase this, I have to admit).

So there are some good birds around the region, and no doubt there are some good birds still to find in Maine. Other than a couple of days, it has been fairly temperate to mild all fall, and I can’t help but wonder if birds that arrived in the state through various vagrancy mechanisms (see Chapter 7 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder) have yet to concentrate along the coast as they seek out more favorable microclimates or seasonal food sources. Also, as the season progresses, more rarities turn up at feeding stations as natural food supplies diminish. December rarities, for example, are often discovered at feeders. Two tardy Chipping Sparrows are at our store’s feeders as I type this, by the way; I’m hoping they pick up a clay-colored cousin. A lot of folks are reporting very busy feeders right now, which is a good sign, especially considering the lack of irruptive finches.

To read the rest of this post, click here.


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format including photos and real text from the guide
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos


Derek Lovitch’s Tenth Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup

Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder, is still flying high this migration season, spending part of last week along the southern coast of Maine to do some serious birding. In the midst of this ‘rarity season’, Lovitch and his crew recorded some exciting sightings, which he wrote about in this post from his blog, Maine Birding Field Notes.


South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup TEN!

http://mebirdingfieldnotes.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/blpwsheridanstreetportland11-3-14.jpgEach year on the first weekend of November, a group of us get together to scour the Southern Maine coast for vagrants, lingering migrants, pioneers, irruptive, and other seasonal highlights. Coinciding with the peak of “Rarity Season,” we set out to use the geography of the Maine coast, coupled with knowledge of the best habitats and vagrant traps in order to find as many “good” birds as possible. While this year failed to produce any “Megas,” we once again had a great day in the field, found lots of fun stuff, and enjoyed good food and beer at the Great Lost Bear at the end of the day (the real reason we all get together for this event!)

119 species were tallied by the 8 teams of the TENTH Annual South Coastal Maine Rarity Roundup, six species above our 10-year average, despite somewhat more limited coverage than in the past few years. The continuing “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler was added to the cumulative checklist, while we also had our second-ever Snowy Egret, Prairie Warbler, and Nelson’s Sparrow. Blackpoll Warbler and Clay-colored Sparrow appeared for the third time.

Most teams experienced a decidedly “birdy” day, especially from Portland through Scarborough. A fallout of Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and Hermit Thrushes occurred with overnight northwesterly winds and a line of pre-dawn showers, with the fallout especially evident on the Portland Peninsula. I’ll have more about the fallout on a blog entry later today.

The fallout that I mentioned above was very evident in the morning, as we birded Portland’s East End. 150+ White-throated Sparrows and 100+ Song Sparrows littered the Eastern Promenade. White-throats were everywhere: 50+ on Sheridan Street for example. And once again there was a decidedly disproportionate number of White-throated Sparrows in gardens and landscaping of downtown Portland. A short loop from One City Center through Monument Square, behind Portland High, and back through Post Office Park yielded 35 White-throats, with the only other native migrant being 7 Hermit Thrushes. Like the sparrow, Hermit Thrushes appear in a wildly disproportionate number to other migrants – especially all other thrushes – in downtown Portland. I’m convinced that something causes White-throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes to either a) become disoriented by urban lights more often/more readily, especially under low ceilings (it was cloudy for most of the night and morning) or perhaps b) they simply don’t leave these lots in a morning flight as species such as Dark-eyed Juncos might. In fact, I just read in an article in the Brown Alumni Magazine that a friend of the store dropped off about collisions in New York City that since 1997, more White-throated Sparrows have been found dead than any other species. Coincidence?

Our sum of 26 Hermit Thrushes was truly amazing, as was our overall diversity on the day. While the mild weather certainly has a lot to do with the number of lingering/pioneering birds that we, and other teams, encountered, the late-season fallout earlier in the morning certainly helped our cause.

In other words, it was another great day of birding in urban Portland in the heart of “Rarity Season!”

To see the rest of this post on Lovitch’s blog, click here.


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.


Migration Quiz Monday: The Swamp Answer

Ready for the big reveal? It’s time to find out where Scott Whittle and Tom Stephenson, co-authors of The Warbler Guide, found this bird call, and which of our three winged options it came from.


Audio Quiz: Swamp Answer

Click Here To Listen

QUIZ SONG – ONE SECTION OF REPEATED, 4-ELEMENT PHRASES – PITCH MOVES IN ONE DIRECTION.

So this is a 1-Section song. It consists of one Phrase that is repeated over and over. (A Phrase is a group of different Elements that are repeated several times.) The Phrase is intricate, with 4 Elements.

Notice that each Phrase covers a lot of frequencies, including some that are very low. The first Element of each Phrase looks like a very straight line. This indicates many frequencies being sung at the same time, creating a very strong accent or even noise-like sound. The Elements in the rest of the Phrase sound staccato, as they are short, and have a much smaller pitch range.  And they rise in pitch, one to the next.

All of the suggested species share this same basic structure: 1 Section with several repeated Phrases, each of which consists of a few Elements. Let’s first look at Kentucky Warbler and see if it fits.

Click Here To Listen

KENTUCKY WARBLER: THE ELEMENTS ARE LOW AND COMPRESSED IN PITCH RANGE.

The first thing we hear (and see) is that all of these Elements are very similar to each other. There is nothing like the variety of sound we hear in the target song. Also, the pitch is low and doesn’t cover nearly the same range, making the song sound duller and less strident.

Common Yellowthroat’s song does have a lot of variety in its Elements.

Click Here To Listen

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT: LESS ACCENTED, SLOWER, AND HIGHER, WITH UP/DOWN PITCH MOVEMENTS.

And it covers a very wide range of frequencies, although it doesn’t go nearly as low as the target song. Also, the Elements are somewhat longer, and thus sound less staccato or accented. The speed of the Phrases is also noticeably slower, in fact about half as fast. That enhances the more melodic quality of the Common Yellowthroat’s song.

Finally the pitch profile of each Phrase is a slower, more gentle, up/down form. All in all, Common Yellowthroat sounds more mellow or sing-songy than the target song, which has a very strong accent followed by a rapidly rising series of short Elements.

All of the features of the target song fit the various, variable songs of Carolina Wren. The key to identifying this species, and separating it from other species, is each Phrase’s very fast, sharp, accented Element that is then followed by a series of short Elements with either a rising or falling overall pitch profile. The fairly fast speed and wide pitch range, adds to the song’s effect.


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.

The Warbler Guide to Aging and Sexing Sheet

Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, authors of The Warbler Guide, have a reputation for presenting information to their readers in new and helpful ways. This includes looking at birding in the field as realistically as possible while teaching people to not just look for the same obvious features every time when trying to identify a bird. Taking it to another level, the two have a sheet designed to help birders determine the age and sex of the warbler they are viewing:


And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.