Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category

Bird Feeders and Pests

September 29, 2007

Many unwanted animals appear at our bird feeders. Squirrels are the most common but designers of bird feeders must try to design feeders to defeat other non-avian interlopers too. As you can see, their efforts don’t defeat all the possible pests at feeders.51550_n.gif

Schrodt Hummingbird feeder, Part II.

September 23, 2007

Back in July, when summer was at its height and we were full of hope, we wrote about our favorite Hummingbird feeder, the Schrodt faceted crystal feederNow, Autumn is upon us, the long winter skulks over the horizon and hope wanes.  Backyard Brands, which supposedly is a real business but whose parking lot is empty is still AWOL when it comes to these feeders.  Recently we spoke to an actual human being who claimed to work at Backyard Brands about the Schrodt feeders and were treated to an observation that they “have a patent on that feeder.”  We don’t know whether that is true or not but we have a bridge we are interested in selling them.  It is on sale, this week only.  We’ll make them a good price, especially if they will actually deliver some feeders and spare parts to us.

But we are not holding our breath and neither should you.  If you have a Schrodt faceted hummingbird feeder, treat it carefully.  You may have one of the last of a fine species.

Birders and Lists, Part II

August 17, 2007

This is the completion of yesterday’s post about computerized birding lists. And since we are writing about a piece of computer software, we’ll start with an axiom: All computer programs have to be written by computer programmers. There is nothing wrong with that. Sadly though, there is a corollary: Anyone who learns the languages of computer programming is no longer able to write intelligible English. Software manuals confirm this. Why this should be so is a mystery, but many laws of nature remain mysteries. Where is the “dark matter” in the Universe? What is it? What exactly is that “dark energy” the Universe is full of. Computer programming is, no doubt, an art and a science requiring intelligence, energy and creativity. But it comes with a price: A Faustian bargain requiring the programmer to sacrifice the ability to communicate intelligibly with the rest of us. Spend your days manipulating ones and zeroes and words will fail you.

Which brings us to AviSys. Here is a screen shot of it. main6cc.gifIt is a complicated program and it comes with a manual written by a programmer. 126 pages. You are invited to “dive in!” But Chapter One, “The Fundamentals” is almost half the book. By page 15 we ostensibly know how to produce 15 different kinds of bird lists and we’ve hardly begun. We’ve also read some interesting prose. Here, for example, is something from page 13,

In that case, if you want to be sure AviSys always
presents the “correct” life records when you ask to see them,
or when you ask “Which of the birds on that trip to Texas last
week were lifers?” enter a /? Attribute into the records of the
same life bird that were not the “real” life records.

Fifty-seven words in that sentence. Not only is the sentence unintelligible, it is misleading. It implies that you can ask AviSys questions in plain English which it will then answer. Not so. In the first place, you don’t ask questions of computer data bases, you “argue” with them. And you sure as hell don’t “argue” with your data base in plain ordinary English. Nope. Here is an example of an argument from the book. “Select my sightings of mature birds constructing nests in fresh water shore or marsh habitat.” Here is what you “argue” to the computer: “/NO/i/nc/FS/or/FM.” Want to find a list of “female birds seen brooding on nests in mountain coniferous forest above 3000 feet elevation?” No problem. Just type /f seen/nb in /MC at /L3. See how easy it is?

There is one clear English sentence in the book. It comes on page 71. It’s about the Help Button. It reads, “It’s always there to provide information — use it.” Sadly, the Help section also was written by a programmer. Then, just when you are getting the hang of things – say by page 95 of the manual – you read,

Important: Double quotes (“) in comments are replaced with single quotes (‘) to maintain file formatting integrity. Place and species names are not checked. If you have edited any of those names with double quotes you should remove them or replace them with single quotes before using the Export facility. Other software chokes on imbedded quotes during import.

We could go on, but you get the idea. It is best summed up by a quotation from the manual itself. It is expressed in the manual as “Blinn’s Fourth Law” and found at page 40. “When a program is designed so that fools can use it, only a fool would want to use it.”

That is known as “an imbedded insult.” You search for it with the command, /scr#*/yu.

Otherwise, it is a good program. Really. It is difficult to imagine a piece of birding data it would not record for you – after you learn the program. If only they would hire the modern day equivalent of Raymond Chandler to write a short, simple explanation of how to use it for us fools.  “Down these mean bytes must click a man who is not himself mean.”

Order from or 1.800.354.7755 or 505.867.6255.

Another internet-less weekend is in the works for us so we’ll be back Monday to continue our series about birds and sex.

Birders and Lists, Part I

August 16, 2007

Birders make lists. We like to keep track of things. Things like how many species of birds we have seen in their lives. Where we saw them. When. With whom. Really compulsive birders keep lists for every trip they take or have taken. Which birds came to which feeders in their yard. When. With whom. Which birds returned after Winter. When. With whom. Which migrants stopped by for a rest and some food on their way North. What they ate. Which ones stopped by to visit on their way South. How many they’ve seen this year. This month. Today. It is best if they can cross reference the lists. Then they can identify how many species they saw on that trip to South Texas ten years ago compared to this year’s trip. Their grandchildren may want to know whether they saw a Roseate Spoon Bill on their 2001 trip to Laguna Atascosa. These people need a computer and some serious software, otherwise their sightings and lists will be lost to history.

You get the idea. Some birders are compulsive. Others, not so much. Some just want to keep one list, all the species of birds they’ve seen in this life. Maybe a chronological list. And maybe an annual list, just for fun. These birders don’t need a computer to keep their lists. An old fashioned note book and a pen work just as well. There may even be a few apostates who don’t keep even a single list.

We fall in the middle category, for the most part. We keep lists of birds we see on particular outings and, if we take a vacation, we’ll keep a list of what we saw and where. And we both have a life list. That is about it. We really don’t need a computer and fancy software to keep track of it. But we have it anyway.

Last year, while looking at a Yellow Grosbeak yellow-grosbeak-small.jpg– think of an American Goldfinch on steroids – someone recommended a software program named AviSys. It eventually became a birthday present from one of us to the other. ($110.00 including tax and shipping. The program is only for PC’s and is not written for Apple.) If you are a birder of the first kind and want lists upon lists upon lists, all cross-indexed and ready at the click of a mouse, (several clicks actually and some key-boarding) we recommend it heartily. If you are a computer programmer, rocket scientist or professional ornithologist, we recommend it heartily. If you are an ordinary mortal, wait for our next post before you run out and buy it. It is a fine program but, unless you are a computer programmer, you need forewarning.

Yellow Grosbeaks, by the way, are not supposed to be in the United States. But this one came and spent the summer allowing hundreds if not thousands of birders to add it to their Life List. The bird spent the summer in the backyard of a lawyer here. She told the North American Rare Bird Alert people and they posted instructions of how to get to her house. She left coffee out all day for visitors. Her dogs tolerated all the visitors. The bird tolerated all the visitors and a good time was had by all.

Schrodt Hummingbird Feeder–Gone the Way of the Dodo?

July 10, 2007

A great loss to the world of hummingbird feeders happened when
Schrodt Designs, a small Ashland, Oregon company got swallowed by The Backyard Brands Inc. Schrodt made beautiful bird feeders. Their crown jewel was a Ruby-Faceted Hummingbird Feeder which you see here. bfs01a.jpg

Some hummingbird feeders are functional. Some are beautiful. Only one or two are beautiful AND functional. This feeder is one of them. Not only is it gorgeous; it is extremely popular with hummingbirds — which is the point, after all. We have five different hummingbird feeders in our yard and the Schrodt feeder is always empty first and always has the most birds feeding from it.

At least a year ago, Backyard Brands, based in Fulton, Illinois, bought Schrodt and has not supplied the feeder to its vendors since. We call Backyard and hear that the feeder will be shipped in two weeks, or six months, or one month, or next week, or in two months. At least that’s what we hear on that rare occasion we reach a human being. Judging from their unanswered telephone tree, they must be very busy or have a moribund service department. Once a human being told us that there is a “quality control” problem with their plant in Taiwan. By now, someone from Backyard Brands could have swum to Asia and fixed the problem. Or found a supplier in the U.S. or just given the business back to Schrodt.

We begin to doubt that we’ll ever see this feeder again. For now, if you have one of these fine feeders; cherish it, as it may be extinct before long.

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