Hello fellow birders!
FIREFINCH app launched in September 2022…as part of the marketing campaign I ran a little online treasure hunt. If you like puzzles and challenges, check it out below. The challenge ran over seven days. Be careful not to reveal the answers when scrolling down!
- Each separate clue is demarcated by the thick lines. Stop scrolling when you reach a line!
- The first part of each subsequent section is the answer to the previous challenge.
- Enjoy, and let me know if you crack the code!
Well done to those who figured out yesterday’s difficult first challenge! If you couldn’t crack it, don’t worry—it was very tough. It works like this:
I noticed that many people were getting a U instead of a T. It depends on how your arrange the letters around the two diagonal parts (clockwise or criss-cross). So if you got ‘Aenigmauolimnas’ instead of ‘Aenigmatolimnas’, that’s also right. I added an additional webpage that accepts this answer. The index of your field guide would also nudge you in the right direction.
After substituting each symbol, you should have had this cryptic phrase:
www.fp.com/aenigmatolimnas (enter symbol)
Clearly a website. If you typed it in just like that it wouldn’t have led anywhere. But hopefully you figured out that the main URL is an abbreviation, thus:
From there you were asked to click on ‘Aenigmatolimnas’ and faced with five species: Herero Chat, African Pitta, Eurasian Hobby, Striped Crake and White-tailed Shrike. Of course, Aenigmatolimnas is the genus of the mysterious Striped Crake, and a fitting bird for our FIREFINCH challenge. By the way, the name means something ‘enigmatic dwellers of pools’.
But upon clicking on Striped Crake you are blocked with a password request. And that’s where today’s challenge comes in.
Southern Africa offers some of the best birding in the world. The region is home to nearly 1,000 species, roughly 10% of the world’s total, including a wealth of endemic and near-endemic specials. Some birding hotspots sites are deservedly famous as birding sites: Kruger National Park, West Coast National Park, Sani Pass, iSimangaliso, the Okavango, Vumba…I hope you’ve had a chance to visit these magical places. Other places are less well known but offer a real sense of wilderness and exploration potential. Or perhaps you refer to bird your local patch. Whatever the case, birds are all around us, wherever you go!
I hope you managed to figure out the mysterious phrase: Oeioe zselz. If not, try to turn it upside down. If you squint a bit, the letters transform into numbers! Note also the dash at the end, which is actually a minus sign. Yes! These are coordinates! With three decimals, the numbers become:
Gooi that into Google Maps, and you land smack bang in the middle of Wakkerstroom Wetland. With all the waffle in yesterday’s post about birding sites, I was hoping to hint that the password was a location. Back to www.faansiepeacock.com/aenigmatolimnas, click on the Striped Crake, and enter the password ‘Wakkerstroom’. Voila!
This led you to a page called ‘marginalis’ – the second part of the Striped Crake’s scientific name. There was a little poem prompting you to come back tomorrow (today), with a large redacted image. The second part of the poem was a riddle – the answer is ’emojis’.
Well done on reaching this point in the game,
via coordinates, ciphers and a bird’s name.
The full picture will only emerge at noon
So come back to this you are el: soon.
While you wait, here’s something to think about:
How can you cry, or rage, or laugh or shout
or say how you feel without making a sound?
The answer is normally yellow, and round.
Returning to the page www.faansiepeacock.com/marginalis today, you would have been greeted with this new poem:
Here’s the full picture as yesterday I promised you:
A mix of paintings from the app, of birds doing what they do.
But there is also a clue hidden in this jpeg.
And I won’t tell you, even if you beg!
It has to do with the riddle of yesterday,
the one about silently saying what you want to say.
Did you manage to figure it out?
What I was going on about?
The next step is hiding right here on this page.
Don’t navigate away, just engage.
But be quick—we’re moving on again, SOON.
The next clue is coming tomorrow at noon.
You’re looking for a number, as I said.
But best not keep the count in your head.
And if you do get the answer, jot it down.
Or a subsequent clue will make you frown.
How is everybody doing? Still persevering on these almost-impossible challenges? I hope you’re having fun!
The coordinates and Wakkerstroom password led you to www.faansiepeacock.com/marginalis where there was a short poem and a redacted image with a prompt to check again ‘tomorrow’. Returning to that page, you would have found a second poem and the full image. The image shows six bird species (and a Ground Squirrel), typical of the Kalahari biome.
The poem says that there is hidden meaning in the image, and that the answer is somewhere on this page. In the initial poem there was a hint in the weird phrasing ‘you are el: soon’ i.e. URL:soon. Although it doesn’t look like a link, you can click on the word ‘soon’ in the poem. This will take you to a page called ‘soon’, which shows six emoji-type pictures.
Six bird species, six emojis. The order is important. The emojis represent:
Pie = Southern Pied Babbler
Snake = Scaly-feathered Finch
Rhino = Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Candle = Violet-eared Waxbill
Star = Cape Glossy Starling
Wind = Common Swift
Now, simply count the number of individuals for each species. This should have given you a number:
Keep that number in mind for an upcoming challenge!
As for today’s clue…FIREFINCH features almost 5,000 photos by Southern Africa’s foremost bird photographers. Contributors from all over the world also helped with rare vagrants and migrants. A visual feast! These two images that I took – of a Bradfield’s Swift and Cape Sparrow – did not make the quality cut for the app! Perhaps someone with some Photoshop skills could tweak them a bit?
You can download high resolution versions here:
Yesterday I gave you two images and hinted that they should be manipulated in some way. If you imported these into Photoshop or some other image editing software, boosted the saturation, and fiddled with the contrast settings or levels…a QR ‘magically’ appears in the background. Scanning this will have led you to the FIREFINCH website at www.firefinchapp.com. Well done!
In case you are wondering, both images produced the same QR and led to the same website. There are way more complicated ways to hide information in images by changing the identifying codes of the pixels. We’ll save that for the second treasure hunt!
Today you can simply sit back and enjoy this video clip of a Turnstone and some Sanderlings that I took in West Coast National Park. And don’t worry – I didn’t add some subliminal cue to point out another bird’s name…or did I?
Next up I gave you a link to a short YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIfANp3dWhE) of a Turnstone poking about in eelgrass. Towards the end of the video there is a 0.1s flash spliced into the footage. You can freeze this by pausing at the exact right moment (you can also slow playback speed in YouTube settings). Initially it looks like a blank green screen, but if you pause you will notice several unusual words and glyphs. These all say the same thing in different languages: “head”. So green+head. There is only one Green-headed bird in Southern Africa: Gorongosa Mountain’s Green-headed Oriole.
Today, I thought you might like a peek at the list of species covered by FIREFINCH. You can download the spreadsheet by clicking on the FIREFINCH logo. You should be able to open the file in Excel, Google Sheets or Apple’s Numbers. Remember everything that you have learned thus far. Good luck!
Well done to everyone who have come this far! Today’s challenge is the last hurdle. Hopefully you’ve had fun so far, but there is also a small reward waiting at the end.
Okay. So I gave you a spreadsheet called Firefinch Birdlist, containing scientific names of the almost 1,000 birds featured in the FIREFINCH app. But I used a cruel and juvenile trick to hide extra information in column C. The text is white (so invisible), but the column contains a bunch of 1’s and 0’s: binary code.
So what to do with a thousand lines of binary code? Well, we found Green-headed Oriole in the video clip, so that’s the place to start. Indeed, all the binary code was nonsense except for one species Oriolus chlorocephalus. If you copy the binary into an online translator you got the answer: next clue at fp.com/Lagonosticta.
For the last six years or so, I’ve been running around with a parabolic microphone dish, roughly the size, shape and weight of a Weber braai’s lid. FIREFINCH currently features high quality sound clips of around 600 species, with more being added every day. Anton and I are also on our way to north-western Zambia to fill in some sound gaps (Ross’s Turaco, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Sharp-tailed Starling and RED-headed Quelea, to name but a few).
ABOVE: Red-throated Twinspot.
ABOVE: Red-crested Korhaan.
ABOVE: Red-eyed Dove.
It’s one thing to just listen to a sound, but you can really appreciate all the details when you open it in software that plots the sound visually. As such, sound clips in FIREFINCH are accompanied by scrolling sonograms that point out interesting or important features, as in the example below.
Have a listen to the three lark species. You can download them by right clicking and selecting Save Link As.
Today was the last challenge and you’ve persevered this far. Well done! At noon I uploaded some information on the app’s sound recordings to the Lagonosticta page at faansiepeacock.com. By the way, Lagonosticta is the genus of Firefinches, hehe. Now it was time for an audio adventure.
There is a little bit of text and some sonogram examples, and then audio files. Throughout there is emphasis on the word “red”. For example, I capitalised red in Red-headed Quelea, the three sonogram examples are all of birds with ‘red’ in the name, the abbreviation for Red-eyed Dove is ‘R.E.D.’ and the technical hint is in red font. Also, at the start of the challenge I wore a red jersey in the announcement video.
So while the other two lark recordings are great, clearly I wanted you to pay attention to Red Lark. If you listen closely to the recording you can hear a weird sound first ascending and later descending (over and above the lark’s song).
I hinted that you can see more details in the sound if you open them in sound visualisation software, such as Adobe Audition or Audacity. If you saved the Red Lark .wav file, and opened it in such software, you would have seen two arrows. One pointing up (the ascending sound) and one down (the descending sound).
At first glance these don’t seem to point to anything. But if you amplify the high frequencies some text appears. You can’t hear this ‘text’ because it is above human hearing frequencies.
The text spells out ITIS TSN #. But what could it mean? Well, with any mystery in life, the place to start is Google. One of the first results would have been the Integrated Taxonomic Information System website. Sounds promising!
On the ITIS page you would have seen a search bar, where you can search any taxon by Common Name, Scientific Name or TSN…which stands for Taxonomic Serial Number. Okay great, but what number do we search for? Well, think back…was there any specific number that you discovered?
Yes! 563348 by way of the Kalahari composite image. And if you type that into ITIS as a TSN and search, out pops…Bokmakierie!
And for the very last step on our trail, head back to the firefinchapp.com website, find the Bokmakierie (under Perchers > Bushshrikes). It is clickable and leads to a small reward for your patience. Thanks for playing, and be sure to subscribe to the app for more fun, facts and feathers!