iPhone Helps Campers "Capture" Bird

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Last week, birding counselor Dave Jasper and the kids from the Camp Chiricahua were hiking down Miller Canyon in Southern Arizona when all of the sudden they heard something they weren't supposed to. It was a brown-backed solitaire, a thrush common in Mexico, but one that has never been documented north of the border. Just how Jasper and friends verified their finding could only have happened in this "connected" day and age. Host Scott Simon talks to Jasper about the discovery.


Last week, birding counselor Dave Jasper and the kids from Camp Chiricahua were all hiking down Miller Canyon in southern Arizona. All of a sudden, they heard something they weren't supposed to.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

SIMON: Now, that's not a scene from "Psycho." It was a brown-backed solitaire, a thrush that's common in Mexico, but one that's rarely been documented north of the border. Birds, of course, rarely pay attention to borders. Just how Mr. Jasper and his friends verified their finding could only have happened in this connected day and age.

Dave Jasper joins us from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. DAVE JASPER (Birding Counselor): You're very welcome.

SIMON: So tell us about this sounding and sighting, please.

Mr. JASPER: We just finished walking up the canyon, working our way back down, and we heard that outrageous little flute sound that you just played back, and it caught my attention. We didn't know what the bird was, so I turned to one of my kids, who is pretty technically knowledgeable. And he pulled out an iPhone, and we checked on the identification of the bird's song, got pictures of the bird, we recorded the bird with his iPhone, and essentially documented the first record of a brown-back solitaire in the United States.

SIMON: This all would've been a lot more difficult if you didn't have the iPhone and those apps on it?

Mr. JASPER: Yeah, there's an infinite number of bird songs in the wild, and you can only store so much of that information in your head.

SIMON: So did you play a recording of the brown-back solitaire?

Mr. JASPER: We went through a series of recordings of Mexican birds, the oddball stuff, figured out that it was, indeed, the solitaire, and then used the recording to elicit a response from the bird to make sure of its identification. It flew in, fluttered over us. We got exceptional pictures.

SIMON: Now, as I understand it, you're waiting for official verification from the Arizona Bird Committee. And I gather they have to establish whether the solitaire is somebody's escaped pet, or a wild bird that wandered north on its own from the mountains of Mexico.

Mr. JASPER: Correct. There is some concern that possibly this bird may have been a caged bird. But we didn't see any feather wear on the bird, which is typical of birds that are kept in cages. It is a somewhat popular caged bird in Mexico. So they have to go through all the information and come up with a decision.

SIMON: I guess if you're a serious birder, this is kind of what you hope for.

Mr. JASPER: Yeah, it's something that you always hope to have happen, and I was very pleased that it did, especially being with the kids at the same time.

SIMON: Well, it must have been a wonderful experience for them.

Mr. JASPER: Something they probably won't forget the rest of their lives, and that's why I let the kids do the documentation of the bird and do the write-up and the official handing in of the rare bird-sighting itself.

SIMON: Thanks so much, Mr. Jasper.

Mr. JASPER: Thank you, sir.

SIMON: Birder Dave Jasper.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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