New DVD field guide a perfect holiday gift

10:33 am | December 12, 2011

A new DVD designed for beginning birders looking to get to know the birds of Tennessee and Kentucky could be just the ticket for anyone looking for that perfect Christmas gift.

Videographer Joe LaFleur has produced a DVD titled “Better Birdwatching in Kentucky and Tennessee,” to help Tennessee birders identify some of the most common species in the state

In 1934, Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to Birds created a surge of interest in birdwatching as a hobby.

Today, advances in technology continues to lure people to take up this popular pastime. Birdwatchers’ appetites for information have grown over time, spawning a variety of field guides, which bring birds to life on the pages of books and allow readers to make accurate species identifications.

Now, taking the concept of field guide another step, videographer Joe LaFleur has authored a new DVD on eastern birds that can bring birds to life on any television or computer screen. Most of the birds featured can be found in Tennessee year round or as seasonal migrants.

One in every five Americans watches birds, according to a new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis.” The report claims that 48 million people birdwatch, remaining at a steady 20 percent of the U.S. population since 1996.

After graduating from Colorado State University in 1996 with degrees in Wildlife Biology and Communications, LaFleur began traveling throughout the country to collect video and sound recordings of different species. His new title on eastern birds is a three hour compilation that focuses on 270 species commonly found east of the Missouri River. Searchable indexes on the DVD allow users to quickly locate species of interest. The video content has been carefully edited to display diagnostic field marks and unique behaviors of birds in their natural habitats.

Birds are often secretive and hard to see, so learning their sounds can be critical for identification. The unique collection of songs and calls on the DVD include multiple songs for many species. Within a species, the songs are similar but do vary by geographical region and even among individual birds.

The DVD costs $29.99. For more information, call 1-888- 414-2837 or visit betterbirdwatching.com for a list of birds featured on the DVD.

Although he noted that it was hard to do, LaFleur selected 25 birds that almost anyone in Tennessee should have no trouble learning to identify. The list incorporates Blue Jay, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Baltimore Oriole, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Red-tailed Hawk, Wild Turkey, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Whip-poor-will, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Downy Woodpecker.

He narrowed his list to a “Top 10” by picking birds that are widespread, numerous, year-round residents (except hummingbird) and regular visitors to yards, feeders and birdbaths.

His “Top 10” birds are Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Downy Woodpecker.

LaFleur currently lives in Mineral Bluff, Ga., in the Blue Ridge Mountains, very close to the Tennessee border. He obtained a master’s degree in communications that focused on video and sound production.

“Most people learn better when they see and hear things at the same time, so the DVD is a great audiovisual training tool because it shows wild birds in their natural habitats along with the sounds,” he explained. “The DVD format allows users to look up birds quickly with the Alphabetical and Family indexes.”

LaFleur has been birdwatching for over 20 years.

“In college I took an ornithology class and had a great professor that took us on field trips,” he said. “I was very impressed with how he was able to identify birds by sight and sound and that got me hooked.”

A family of New World birds known as warblers includes some of his favorite birds.

“I suffer from warbler bias, which is probably why the warbler family on the DVD has more species than other family, 27 species,” he said. “Tennessee is a great state for warblers, too. They are a challenging group because they are very active and don’t sit in one place for long to provide a good look. They also tend to stay well hidden in shrubby areas or high up in trees.”

There is a payoff when the observer succeeds in closely observing a warbler.

“When you do get a good look, it is very rewarding because of the challenge and because they are beautiful birds, many with bright colors and artistic patterns,” LaFleur said. “Warblers tend to be more visible when migrating in spring and fall, so this is typically the best time to get good looks at them.”

LaFleur sees his DVD as a helpful tool for introducing people to birdwatching.

“For beginners it can be frustrating to identify birds because there are so many options that they can get overwhelmed by too much information,” he said. “The DVD makes it easier by focusing on the Top 150 birds they are most likely to see.”

He added that the family indexes on the DVD are helpful, too. LaFleur said he first step when a person sees a new bird is to try to determine what family it belongs to (warblers, sparrows, hawks, waterfowl) and then from there try to identify the species.

He has been working part-time at capturing sound and video recordings of birds for the past 10 years.

“It has grown to the point that I have been doing it full-time now for the past two years,” he said. “I also travel a fair amount to promote birdwatching by leading free bird walks and programs at parks and stores.”

For example, on Sunday, Jan. 8, LaFleur will be doing a program on identifying winter birds at Cumberland Mountain State Park in Crossville, Tenn.

He has traveled extensively in pursuit of his recordings.

“In the U.S. we have a great system of public lands that provide public access to great habitat for birds and birdwatching,” LaFleur said. “I have so many great memories from visiting these areas looking for new and different birds. I grew up in Colorado, so I always love visiting coastal regions as something new and different.”

He also has many favorite birding destinations.

“One of my favorite spots is Jekyll Island on the Georgia coast,” he said. “Another great place is Southeast Arizona where you can see birds that are not found anywhere else in the U.S. In one day you can bird a wide variety of habitats that vary from desert lowlands upwards to spruce-fir mountains forests.”

He has also visited some unusual locations, including a trip to the snow covered alpine of the Colorado Rockies looking for White-tailed Ptarmigan in winter plumage.

He also pursued opportunities to witness the elaborate mating displays of Sage Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Prairie-Chickens in sagebrush and grassland areas of the West, which required traveling to remote areas to arrive at their mating grounds, or leks, before dawn to view the spectacle.

“A trip to the last frontier of Alaska was great, too,” he added.

LaFleur also offers some advice for birding newcomers interested in maximizing the experience.

“An essential tool for birdwatching is binoculars, 7 or 8 power are best for birdwatching,” he said.

“Early morning and late afternoon/early evening are the best times for birdwatching,” LaFleur said.

He noted that it is not difficult at all to get started at watching birds.

“Birdwatching is an easy activity you can enjoy in the backyard or while doing outdoor activities like hiking, hunting, camping and fishing,” he said. “You can attract an amazing variety of birds in the backyard by providing habitat (trees and shrubs), food and moving water.”

LaFleur also pointed out that birdwatching is a dynamic pastime. “The birds change with the seasons, which keeps it interesting,” he said. “The best times are during spring and fall migration when anything can show up day to day.”

•••••

The seasons are indeed changing at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton. As we draw closer to the official start of winter, many of the season’s resident birds flock to my feeders. Some of the guests have included Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch and American Goldfinch.

There haven’t been any visitors out of the usual suspects. I am still waiting for the first winter visit from a Pine Siskin, Purple Finch or Fox Sparrow.

•••••

To share a sighting, make a comment or ask a question, call me at 297-9077 or send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or bstevens@starhq.com. I’m also on Facebook.

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