Birds and Blooms Blog

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Birding for Beginners: Choosing a Field Guide

Rob Ripma Picking a field guide can be hard but some a better than others for beginners.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be doing several posts in a series that I’m calling “Birding for Beginners”. I decided to start with one of the most important choices that a beginning birder can make – choosing a field guide.

The volume of choices available when you start looking at field guides can be extremely overwhelming. How in the world are beginning birders supposed to know which of the dozens of field guides that are available will be best to help you learn about the birds that you are seeing? In order to help you decide which field guide to choose, there are several questions that you should ask yourself. First,do you prefer guides with photos or with drawings? Everyone seems to have a strong preference towards one or the other. Second, what region would you like the guide to cover? Is covering just part of North America good enough, or would you like a guide that covers everything you might find in North America?

Once you have answered those questions, you will be much more prepared to select a field guide. I recommend the following field guides based on my experiences using many different guides over the years.

1. The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

In my opinion, this is the best field guide to the birds in North America for beginning birders. The book is laid out in a way that really helps you find birds in the book as well as learn them as you go. It features photos of each species and very helpful text explaining many of the key identification points in addition to other useful information such as habitats and nesting behaviors. This is also the first field guide to the birds of North America that is translated into Spanish (Guia de Campo Kaufman a las Aves de Norteamericas).

Birding for Beginners: Kaufman Field Guide

2. The Sibley Guide to Birds

If you prefer drawings to photos, the Sibley Guide to Birds is definitely the book for you. The drawings are very accurate and highlight all of the best identification points of each species. The text is also well written and extremely helpful for those that take the time to read it. This book is offered in three versions: North American, Eastern North America, and Western North America.

Birding for Beginners: Sibley Guide to Birds

3. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds

The first good field guide in the United States was the Peterson Guide to Birds published in 1934. There have been many revisions and upgrades to this book over the years, and it’s still a very good field guide. The book also features drawings of bird species, but I personally prefer Sibley’s artwork. It’s also offered in three versions like The Sibley Guide to Birds - North American, Eastern North America, and Western North America.

Birding for Beginners: Peterson Field Guide

No matter which field guide you choose, I highly recommend that you read the introduction chapters of each book before diving into the more fun images of the birds. There’s an incredible amount of info that can be learned by reading the intros to these books.  You’ll learn how to use the field guide, bird topography (parts of the birds), and how to understand range maps that are included for each species.

Beach Birding During Migration

Jill Staake

There’s no doubt that migration season is in full swing! This past week, I spent an afternoon at my favorite local beach, Fort De Soto Park, which also happens to be one of the best birding hotspots in Florida. Within just a few minutes, before we’d even gotten out of the car, I spotted a new life bird – this gorgeous Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)!

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Scarlet Tanager

Some shore birds migrate too, with the famous Red Knot (Calidris canutus) being a great example. These birds have one of the longest known migrations, traveling 9300 miles from their Arctic summer breeding grounds to their wintering grounds in southern South America. That means the Red Knots we spotted this weekend in Central Florida could still have a couple thousand miles to travel this spring!

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Red Knots

The Least Terns (Sternula antillarum) we spotted, on the other  hand, have probably finished their journey. They winter in the Caribbean and northern South America, but breed along the southern coasts. They also breed far inland along major river systems, though, so these birds could just be stopping for a break before continuing north.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Least Tern

Red-Breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) like this female have been seen here in large numbers this winter, but we were surprised to still see them this far south in the middle of April. Their summer breeding grounds include much of Canada and Alaska, so perhaps they’ve been waiting for this year’s seemingly-endless winter to finish before starting their journey north.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Red-Breasted Merganser (female)

Of course, there were plenty of regular park residents to enjoy as well, along with spectacular sunsets. All in all, it was a perfect way to spend a warm sunny Florida spring day.

Beach Birding

Jill Staake Clockwise from top left: Laughing Gull, Reddish Egret, Short-Billed Dowitchers, Black Skimmer

What migrating birds do you like to watch at the beach? Tell us in the comments below!

Friday Funny Photography: Cup of Carolina Wren

Lorie Enjoy some funny photography and caption this photo!

Friday Funny Photography: Cup of Carolina Wren

Birds & Blooms’ Friday Fun Photography snapshot for April 18, 2014: Cup of Carolina Wren by Suzanne LaPalme of Havelock, North Carolina. Suzanne writes, “A friend gave me on of his homemade bird feeders. It’s a teacup and saucer glued together and mounted on a rod to stake in the ground. I put sunflower seeds in it, only to have squirrels gorge themselves. Then received a lot of rain and the cup filled with water. I saw a black-capped chickadee drinking from it one day, and then this Carolina wren taking a bath in the cup! As you can see, my husband was able to get a great photo of this.”

Do you have a clever caption for this fun photo? We’d love to hear it!

Garden DIY: Floral Ice Cubes

garden diy project - creating floral ice cubes

Spring has finally arrived and what better way to celebrate by bringing the beauty of your garden indoors, to decorate your table.  Floral ice cubes are a creative way to add beauty to the table and are easy to make.

I recently made some using flowers from my own garden and I can’t wait to use them for my next party.  Here is how to make your own:


Purple Violas

1. Choose your favorite edible flower and cut the flowers off, leaving a 1/4 inch of stem or less.  I used violas that were growing in my garden, which are edible and small enough for ice cubes.  Other choices that would work as well are apple, apricot, peach or plum blossoms as well as lavender, nasturtiums, rose petals or snapdragons.  Make sure that your flowers have been grown organically and have not been treated with any pesticides.


2. Gather together ice-cube trays, distilled water and your cut flowers.  You can use regular water, but distilled water freezes much clearer.


3. Place the flowers and then fill with water.  Fill 1/3 full of water and freeze.  Once frozen, add 1/3 more water and freeze again before filling it to the top and freezing it for the last time.


5. Serve your floral ice cubes in your favorite, beverage.  Clear drinks work best so that you can see the pretty flowers inside the ice cubes.

This garden diy project is so easy to do and will add beauty to your table while impressing your guests. What flowers would you choose to freeze into ice cubes?

For more information on edible flowers, check out the “Top 10 Edible Flowering Plants”.


Warblers of the Deep Forest

Rob Ripma

Warblers are some of my favorite birds, and it’s always exciting when the warblers that breed in the deep forests of southern Indiana return to the state. I was lucky to have the opportunity to go birding in that area often while I was in college at Indiana University, and I always like to make a return trip each spring to enjoy these warblers again. One of my favorite warblers (and actually one of my favorite birds overall) is the Hooded Warbler. This is a species that specializes in living in the deep forests and is an extremely common breeder within the right habitat in southern Indiana.

Hooded Warblers are one of my favorite species and it's always exciting when they arrive back in Indiana.

Hooded Warblers are one of my favorite species and it’s always exciting when they arrive back in Indiana.

In addition to the Hooded Warblers, there are several other species that add a little more color and diversity to the forests of southern Indiana. Kentucky Warblers are similar in color to the Hooded Warblers and are also very common in the forest. Worm-eating Warblers are drab brown birds that skulk along the forest floor, and Cerulean Warblers add a splash of blue to the woods.

This Cerulean Warbler was being banded along the Gulf Coast. Photo by Eric Ripma

This Cerulean Warbler was banded recently along the US Gulf Coast. Photo by Eric Ripma

While I’ve talked a lot about these warblers occurring in the forests of southern Indiana, there are many places throughout the eastern United States that you can also find all of them. Have you seen any of these warblers yet this year?  If so, where were they?

Spring Butterfly Gardening Reminders

As warm weather returns, so will these colorful fliers! Get tips for butterfly gardening this spring, and learn how to look for and enjoy them.

Garden Basics: How to Dig a Hole

Did you know that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to dig a hole? Learn what size your hole should be before planting to ensure a happy plant.

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