Sunday, August 25, 2013

Birding Pet Peeve #3 - photo quizzes

I like bird ID photo quizzes.

Wait, let me rephrase that.  I like well-executed bird ID photo quizzes. Many birding publications, blogs, and websites host photo quizzes.  Many of these can be quite challenging and really test your knowledge or skill as a birdwatcher.

So what makes a good quiz?  Clear photos of odd postures or plumages.  Pictures of lesser noticed features of a bird.  Unusual molts.  The really unusual stuff, like birds discolored by pollen or berries.  Gulls always make a good quiz.  So do young birds, eclipse plumages, and non-breeding warblers and shorebirds.

But there is one trait all these quizzes have in common.  That is clear, well lit, properly exposed and focused photographs.  They don’t need to be publication suitable photos but they should be clear.

Many people with cameras and some place to post photos online have decided they to can construct a photo quiz.  The difference is that many of these are poorly done.  They take cutting room floor photos and decide they are quiz worthy.  Why?  Is it part of the “look at me” epidemic that is taking over society?

I’ve seen out of focus photos, over-exposed photos, under-exposed photos, badly backlit photos, and photos of too distant birds.  A low quality image cropped and zoomed so tightly that the bird is rendered in 12 pixels does not make a good quiz.

Is it a foot?  A backlit seabird?  The Titanic, E.T., a DeSoto Firedome, or a crumb from a muffin on the lens?

So by all means keep building quizzes to test the rest of us.  But please pay at least a minimal amount of attention to what you’re doing.  Select photos that give us a fighting chance and let the trash can serve its intended purpose for the rest.  And if you don’t, please stop complaining on your blog or Facebook posting that people don’t appreciate your efforts.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is anybody out there?

Hello? Knock knock? Anybody there?

Over the last few years I’ve come to notice a rather disturbing trend among Audubon chapters and bird clubs, the sound of silence.

In different roles I’ve had many opportunities to contact Audubon chapters or bird clubs across the country seeking information. I usually use the email link on their website but have also made phone calls, posted comments on Facebook walls, and sent good old-fashioned snail mail. My personal experience is that the response rate to inquiries is about 1 in 3.

At one time I was a VP for my local Audubon chapter. We were aware of some programs other chapters were running that were interesting to us. I contacted 14 chapters across the country, from small local chapters to large chapters with huge memberships. I heard back from 5 chapters. Four were willing to share some information. One said they were too busy. And the rest? Nothing. No response of any kind, even when I sent a follow-up or tried a different medium to contact them.

I also travel quite a bit on business and if I’m spending a few nights somewhere, I will look up the local bird clubs for meetings I can attend. In some cases there is no information about the upcoming monthly meeting on the website and the newsletter that is posted is out of date. I’ll email or call the club using the contact information they provided. Once again, I seem to get some response about a third of the time. The rest of the time, nothing.

Some of the issues are perplexing. One chapter I tried to visit had a note on their website that said they met at the local public library in the community room the first Wednesday of each month, September through June. They even gave the street address of the library. I made my way to the library that evening to find out the chapter doesn’t meet there. They haven’t for years. Yet this information is clearly displayed on the home page. The library staff said they get one or two people each month who ask about the meetings.

How many potential members are these groups losing? If people are seeking you out, why are you not responding? A common complaint among Audubon chapters and bird clubs is that as their memberships get older, they are getting smaller as they fail to attract new and younger members. I have a solution that may partially solve their problem. Write back. Return a phone call. If people are taking the time to try to contact you, maybe you should have someone available to take the time to get back to them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Real Men Love Chickadee's

If you ever find yourself birding at the Rocky River Nature Center in North Olmsted, OH, you can have a wonderful little experience. The staff at the nature center have been trying to get chickadee's to take seed from the hand. The have an Aldo Leopold scarecrow set up by the front door with an outstretched hand full of seed. The birds come to Aldo. They also have human volunteers trying the same thing with varying degrees of luck.

The real secret is to go back on the trails behind the nature center. For a couple of hundred yards there is a stretch where the chickadee's will come to the hand thanks to the efforts of the birders who visit the area. Just bring a handful of seed and you can have a neat experience.

These are all un-edited photos taken with my iPhone. Next time I'll take a better camera.

Happy Birding!!!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Birding Pet Peeves - Number 2

Time for pet peeve number 2....

Birders who judge other birders based on the price of their gear.

This one always leaves me confused. On one hand, I can understand that the more experienced a birder gets, there is a tendency to buy better, pricier, equipment. On the other hand, I know many expert birders still using the same binoculars they purchased 35 years ago and are still toting around a Golden Guide or Peterson they purchased about the same time.

Many times in the field I have come across another birder who looked at my chest first. I guess I know how women feel. After they determined the type of binoculars I owned, they engaged me in conversation. As my own gear has gotten better, the nature of my conversations has changed. People seem to assume you know a lot more based on the amount of money you’ve spent. I’ve experienced the same thing with scopes and especially cameras.

Making assumptions based on the price of the gear is risky. I’ve seen old timers with taped together gear and high schoolers with hand me downs who can bird circles around people with better stuff. On the same trip you can run into rich newbies with the latest and most expensive who think sparrows are baby robins.

Take the time to ask a question or two and you’ll learn a lot more.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Birding Pet Peeves - Number 1

I started working on a post of various pet peeves and decided to post them individually over time. I'm sure I'll catch some heat for some of these but that's the chance I take.

So on to pet peeve #1.....

Birders who don't pay attention to their electronic devices.

I don't mean birders who ignore their devices like unwanted junk mail. I'm talking about the noises their various devices make. Don't get me wrong, I think it is great that we have smart phones with all sorts of cool apps and cameras that make it easy to get really good shots, but the noise some of these devices make is frustrating.

I hate it when I'm on a group walk and suddenly you hear Sir Mix-A-Lot's "I Like Big Butts" blasting from someones pocket at maximum volume. Is it that hard to turn off the ringer before you start the walk? It's worse when the trip leader reminds people to set their phones to vibrate at the start of the walk and you are still greeted by the "Old-timey Phone" ring 45 minutes later. To complicate matters, most of these people take the call and then have to tell the caller that they "WILL CALL THEM BACK BECAUSE THEY ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A BIRD WALK".

The other part of this that irritates me is the noise from some of the cameras on the market. When you are birding alone, it is OK to have the camera beep at maximum volume and to set the shutter sound effect to something about as loud as a 12-gauge shotgun slamming the next shell into the chamber. If you're on a group walk, turn it down. Or turn the sounds off.

OK, that sounds petty and whiney, but I feel better.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cleaning out the cameras

If I’m not on a trip somewhere, I’m notoriously bad at cleaning out the memory cards Add Imageon my various cameras. Usually I just open a new project in Aperture and dump everything into the one project and see what I like. I throw out a lot of photos but every now and then I find something I like.

First up was a pile desiccated dung I found in the middle of the trail at the Peak Preserve. There is a lot of corn present. I’m going to assume deer but I thought they would be better at mastication.

Next up is this little caterpillar I found at Caley Reservation. I’m a birder and don’t have a clue what it is but it was pretty.

Walking down a trail a few weeks ago I found this deer rub. It was the only tree in the whole area I could find like this.

Just a random shot of a trail in Caley Reservation.

I love this bark pattern.

Finally, a shot over the pond at Caley. Not much fall color this year. It was wet early and then it was dry into the fall. What little foliage that did turn was quickly blown down by the “Chiclone” storm front.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


OK, enough purple birds. Back to WV.

Day 4 of the New River Birding and Nature Festival found me at a place called Muddlety. It’s a location as much as it’s a state of mind. Muddlety is an area with a troubled past, a troubled present, and a troubled future. Part of the area is reclaimed strip mine. Unfortunately, part of the area is the site of a future strip mine. Throw in a variety of clear cut logging zones over the decades and you have a very unusual mixture of habitat.

The morning started with a stop for a Blue-winged Warbler. The bird did not disappoint as it was quickly located at the expected spot. We were also treated to some nice views of a Common Yellowthroat at the same spot but the bird was not real cooperative for photos. The witchity, witchity, witchity call is common in marshes and is a sign that a particularly beautiful bird is nearby.

A bad photo of the Common Yellowthroat.

As we walked along the roads I was amazed by the diversity of plant life. It seems a real shame that all of this might be gone one day so we can run our light bulbs and toaster ovens for a little while longer. Muddlety is a special place.

I learned something on this trip. I was not aware that black birch trees were once harvested to get the oils in the sap to make oil of wintergreen. Jim McCormac spotted a black birch and pulled off a branch. When the branch is stripped and placed in your mouth you can very clearly taste the wintergreen flavor. Quite cool. Almost like those flavored toothpicks but much better.

At our lunch stop we had a couple of nice treats. In a tire rut in the road were dozens of Pearl Crescents greedily lapping up the minerals in the soils. The photo is poor but the little butterflies were really pretty.

The other nice treat at lunch was a giant Tulip Tree, one of the largest in West Virginia. The tree is in the dead center of the photo. The tree was so big it took 6 people linking hands to reach all the way around.

Finally, i couldn't resist this really pretty fungi growing on a stump. I don't the species but I will find out.

The day wrapped up nicely. The next day featured a hunt for a rarity.