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Ned Brinkley
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Outstanding job, Jeff. You made us all look great! Who's your stylist!?
Toggle Commented Jul 28, 2013 on Jeff Gordon on CBS This Morning at ABA Blog
Just spectacular! Carolina boys doin' it!!
I suppose for me it all boils down to the question of "community" and what we expect of it. That's a very ABA question. ABA offers a big, big tent, and it has activities that range from aesthetic/artistic appreciation, conservation, outreach, kids' events, 'sport' birding and listing, ethics of birding, and just about anything else that falls under its broad mission statement. No one activity or emphasis excludes another, but there is the Code of Ethics, which is a mixture of common sense and common courtesy. So in that sense it very much mirrors the birding community I grew up in - diverse, with room for just about everyone. It is very sad to hear that women birders are devalued in so many parts of the country. I must say that when I dedicated my field guide, there was no hesitation - it was dedicated to Susan Hubbard, Gisela Grimm, Becky White, YuLee Larner, and Floy Burford. I had many male mentors, for sure, but these women were, and are, venerated by generations of local birders, from the coast to the mountains, not just because of their competence but because of their great affection for birds and birding and their willingness to share their knowledge, their homes, their lunch. In the end, my feeling is that each of us, within the birding community, needs to locate people of good will and common interests and go birding with those people. If some cranky person yells at you or condescends, that person probably isn't the best person to go birding with. I think anyone who birds in a popular birding area for a while will end up having an unpleasant encounter with a fellow birder eventually; that is a shame. But we are diverse, and some of us are unpleasant too often. I can remember times when I was not Miss Mary Sunshine, for sure. Most of those moments were regrettable. Nevertheless, as with the Code of Ethics, I think the coin of the realm - if a birder would like to have companionship in the field - should be a relatively pleasant demeanor. Cruelty and birding are not a very good mix. Most of us are looking for a refuge from negativity, a connection with what's real, what's fascinating, and what's beautiful in the world. So whether a caustic comment is sexist, racist, homophobic or just plain mean, I think the best course of action is to look the poor soul in the eye, smile, and depart. That might help the offender realize that the consequence of such attacks is self-exile.
Toggle Commented Jun 13, 2013 on Open Mic: The Field Glass Ceiling at ABA Blog
I suppose all of the points are well taken in this piece, most of which are symptoms of a sexist North American culture generally (and not really any worse in birding than other pastimes), but what does not sit well with me is the concept that a large list is equivalent with "high status" in the birding community. I don't accept that. A person who enjoys birds in the backyard in my mind is not fundamentally less a birder, or a less valuable birder, than a person who sits on a records committee, whatever the gender. Their investments in birding's many facets might differ in fundamental ways, but to attach higher "status" to one activity or aspect versus another is problematic. I was not raised to respect such a hierarchical ordering of the birding community. About half of my mentors were women, half men, and all respected one another deeply, though their interests and emphases were not identical by any means. I went chasing after rarities with both men and women, for sure, in the 1970s and 1980s, but men seemed more likely to do that, whereas women commanded more knowledge of botany and other subjects, on average. But it was all okay. One of my mentors, though more by example than field companionship, Claudia Wilds, was mentor to hundreds or thousands of birders, and it's hard for me to think of many male birders in the mid-Atlantic who would have nearly as much "status" as Claudia. Nevertheless, Claudia didn't seek status - just understanding - and the same could be said of most people I encountered out in the field birding in the twentieth century. It's true that some people, men and women, do seek status and recognition in many parts of their lives (including birding), but I think that that behavior should be considered in itself, clearly and separately from an interest in birds. And we as people who think about such things should not confuse status-seeking with "high status". If such people make disparaging comments about others (whether women or not), we should note that. I don't mean to say that we should in some way "demote" people who use birding as a stage for the aggrandizement of ego (that would be simply to invoke a new hierarchy), but I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to assume that a big number or big list translates into some sort of superior position in what is, after all, a most imaginary "community" at the continental level. The heroes of birding to me are the ones who get out and thoroughly enjoy the natural world and report what they see, learning from errors, enjoying habitats and other creatures, enjoying life generally and learning new things often. I think that if women are underrepresented in listing or in records committees, it might well be because they are leading the way toward a more modern, more evolved engagement with the natural world - not because they are excluded or marginalized or discouraged. At least, that has never been my experience or my interpretation. I respect that others, especially in urban areas, will have had many experiences that are unlike mine.
Toggle Commented Jun 12, 2013 on Open Mic: The Field Glass Ceiling at ABA Blog
I still can't believe that she's not with us. I keep thinking the phone will ring. Quite apart from all the tangible good that she did for birds, birding, conservation, habitats, Betty practiced, even embodied a spirit of loving-kindness that one finds so very rarely in others in a human lifetime. More than an exemplar of conservation ethics for me, she was living proof that our species can achieve the summit of real virtue in our treatment of ourselves and others. She will always be that light for me, that exhortation to try harder to be kind.
We discontinued using the okina at North American Birds a few years ago; we never used long marks over vowels, by the way for Hawaiian birds' names. That was before I went to Hawaii. Now I rather regret the loss of these marks, after hearing advanced (mainland) birders mispronounce simple names like ‘Ōma’o - hearing "oh-MAU" made the poor Hawaiian birders cringe and shake their heads. So because they do provide valuable clues (even stumbling blocks) to new birders, perhaps we should restore them in North American Birds.
What a grand subject, worthy of discussion. This is a fine blog for airing it all out! At issue here, I think, is the relationship between committees and this emerging science (which must publish, something, to maintain funding, credibility, contact with colleagues in the field, even if that something is tentative or preliminary, as is the case for so many papers that rest primarily on biochemical analysis in the past 20 years) - and in turn the relationship of the high-level checklist committees with people in the field who actually use checklists to record data (or to write field guides, etc., for folks who are presumably in the field some of the time). I confess the insertion of Willet between the yellowlegs species got my attention. I don't have data to demonstrate this is incorrect, of course, but - as with the warblers - the end result of these massive upheavals is that I have to hunt around more to find taxa that used to be easily located. That seems only to increase and accelerate as the years pass. It's not enjoyable to have these lists in such flux, particularly when it seems to me that so much of the shuffling and re-shuffling lands us back in familiar terrain and sequence (though, no, not always). I don't mind that the AOU has taken a few decades to watch the falcons settle into their new place in the checklist. That was 20 years in which I could do my hawkwatch checklists much more rapidly. It's less relevant to me that falcons are related to parrots when I'm entering data at a hawkwatch; I'm watching migratory "raptors" (that grab-bag concept), and it's great to have them close to one another on the checklist. I am often happily surprised that my degreed ornithologist friends likewise have great difficulty keeping up with the rapid changes in sequence and in scientific name. It's not easy, especially if your work includes the New World tropics, or even just the AOU North American Checklist area. But even keeping up with the ABA Area is challenging, and I find that many manuscript submissions contain numerous errors. The divergence here between the needs of science/committees and non-specialist users is germane in the context of some field guides, notably the Peterson field guide series, which will remain perpetually out of date because they have tried to stay current with changing AOU Checklist order. That field guide's raison d'être and history - to help people identify birds that look similar - is partly lost. And I'm not sure why. To teach people about evolutionary history? I don't think of that as a primary motivation for people using a field guide. I hear ya, Ted - "Change is good! Shake it up! Learn! Live! It makes for great grist for the mill of the mind!" And surely, we are getting closer to an accurate understanding of bird relationships rather than farther away. But sometimes, you know, I just want to enter my data, brush my teeth, and go to bed. My greatest need is for convenience when interacting with all these brave new checklists and technologies. Let me be clear: a checklist with a standard order is desirable to maintain scientific standards, and the AOU Checklist Committees do a service to the birding community (and for no pay!). But the end-users of the various checklist products are not well served by constantly shifting sands (except for the people who just put a check mark next to a species and are "done" with it, I guess). Perhaps we could have checklists that arrange birds by family (or better, by order?) and that then list birds by English name alphabetically. Maybe that would be a compromise for end-users who are not coming to a checklist to study birds' evolutionary relationships. I admit I am going blind trying to find warblers when I do my eBird checklists - and most warblers haven't arrived here yet! I would love to believe my scientific colleagues who tell me that we're "almost done" with the shifting sands, but I just can't quite believe we are. Ned Brinkley Cape Charles, VA
Toggle Commented Apr 19, 2013 on Here We Go Again at ABA Blog
Hi Madeline - Sorry I missed your notes earlier. Reading content online and reading it on a downloaded object take some getting used to, as they say. We have not yet settled upon the system for downloading the pdf to the device, but we do know that we won't be able to create an object in pdf that will be perfectly suited to every screen on every device. Basically, larger screens will always make for a more comfortable reading experience - for almost any media. So although iPad minis and Samsung Galaxy Note and others are fun for watching movies on a plane, they might be on the small side for reading journals like North American Birds. I don't think the iPad mini will end up being a "staple" for most of us, but I do think tablets (or laptop-tablet hybrids) will be more and more part of the standard kit for field birders in this century. Can you imagine carrying not just all issues of the journal but all of your field guides in a slender tablet? I think this is the library of the future, and with connective devices, the sky is the limit. We will make every effort to make your reading experience a pleasant one with the new journal, and we welcome constant feedback through at least the first few years! But I don't think that comfortable reading on small screens will be feasible soon. But who knows?!
Hey Tom - Many thanks for the comments! The issue with journals that stop being journals (that is, become part of the blogosphere) is that they then require almost constant mediation, really almost daily. When that is done by volunteers, well, things often fall apart. The way we have tried to remain multi-directional is to keep the "Changing Seasons" essay open to all comers. But since the 2006 recession, very few people feel that they have the time to invest (a few hundred hours) in writing the essay. So the task has fallen to the core, the hard core, mostly Associate Editors, Regional Editors, eBird Team Leaders, and myself. I'd be delighted if you'd join the fray! To become interactive is certainly a near-term possibility, but ABA already has many venues for member (and non-member) discussion and debate, including on issues like global warming. Ornithological journals tend to be mostly for digesting and interpreting information; almost none have 'letters to the editor' section even! But magazines and blogs (ABA has "Open Mic" even!) are perfect for getting something off the chest - and it can be a quick comment, rather than taking you out of the field for a few hundred hours!
Thanks, Joel! Yes, old Firefox can be fast for some things (really fast!) but has all sorts of interface 'issues'. Life!
Hi Rod - You should have two paper issues (with corresponding all-color electronic versions, if you like, as well), and then two issues that are fully electronic. I wish I could suggest an alternative journal for you that would give you the ability to return to the experience of Audubon Field Notes (1947-1969); as far as I know, there is no journal on paper (or otherwise) that attempts to do anything like what AFN did then or what we do now. I hope you'll at least give the new medium a try! We have all been a great big team, a big family of friends, and we hate to lose teammates and friends.
Hey Drew - I will ask the folks in the Subscriptions Department tomorrow morning and get back to you. Good question, and one I anticipated but don't know how to answer right off the bat!
Andy, Richard, Gail - many thanks! And yes, we will try to provide as many flexible options as possible when we go 100% electronic/digital. Nancy - we would hate to lose you as a reader and subscriber! If there is anything we can do to ease the transition, please let us know. We are not abandoning paper for reasons that are environmental (though because we have never used recycled paper, the trees probably appreciate the change) but instead for reasons that are economic. We appreciate all the donations to the Friends fund, but they are not sufficient to keep up with the rapidly rising costs of printing and mailing. We hope that you understand, even if you are, as we are, not entirely happy with the change. We will definitely be lowering the cost of a subscription, so hopefully that will ease the transition for some.
Hi Birder37 and Landon - Thanks for your comments! We are committed to joining the publications world of the twenty-first century now, yes, and to leaving paper behind. The paper, printing, and postage costs are higher and higher all the time, and the journal is not a sustainable enterprise as a print publication. That is true of most ornithological journals, as many of our subscribers know. We do want to emphasize that we will continue to be a journal in all other respects, and the many thousands of hours of labor that go into the editing, review, and layout do have some costs associated with them, so the journal will be available only with paid subscription, as has always been the case. The subscription rates will be reduced to reflect the lower cost of production, for sure. We'll have more information on rates in months ahead.
North American Birds has begun a metamorphosis! Starting with the next volume (67), the journal will be paperless—that is, an electronic journal, like so many familiar publications in the world of ornithology already are. Though many of us—your editorial group included—will miss the feel of paper in the hand, and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2013 at ABA Blog
Congratulations, Ioana and Eric! You have distinguished yourselves already, and you have an avocation that will bring you fascination every day for many decades to come, a journey like no other. We're all very proud and impressed - and we're here to support you in your journey.
"No concerns, no desires – just the birds and the present. This is a moment of mindfulness, the very basis of any meditative practice. Birding is spiritual." I absolutely love this Open Mic piece. Birding as a means of fomenting peace and conservation. I confess that I don't always manage to find spiritual equilibrium every time I get into the field, but I oftentimes do reach this place. Kayaking in the barrier islands on a windless morning at sunrise, hiking slowly through the Great Dismal Swamp to a riot of birdsong, getting (intentionally) lost in Yosemite for a few days - I can remember many times that mark the height of my spiritual experiences on earth so far. Some of the times were alone times; others were with close friends or field trip companions. I wrote about this feeling in the dedication to my field guide (6 years ago), but in the hectic of editing and emailing this winter, I had not connected with the thought in months. Thanks for reminding me to remember why it is we constantly come back to nature, Ice! I will try to keep more mindful as the spring approaches. And will keep chatting up the nonplussed waitresses about it all.
Very sweet! Hey, ABA-folk - the amazing Steve Kolbe is now in snowy Mexico, New York (that's right, at Derby Hill Bird Observatory), where he will impress and amaze as chief hawkwatcher and bottle-washer for the spring migration season. Go visit him, and you might be part of GoogleMaps! He is also a finch magnet. You know?
Toggle Commented Mar 3, 2013 on From Kiptopeke to Google at ABA Blog
This is all jolly good; all of the elements of the debate are familiar from decades past, but what has changed is the saturation of the birding environment (or at least frequently birded areas) with playback. That, inarguably, is new, as is the technological environment that permits nearly instantaneous distribution of bird-finding information. This is my fortieth year birding, and I am flabbergasted by the changes in what we still call "birding". I remember birding one spot, about 8-9 years ago, with a group, slowly stalking a shy and very scarce species that was singing close by. One person in the group pulled up the bird's song on his (then amazing) smart-ish device - and the bird shut up and flew off. That was it. We spent another four hours over two more visits, without luck. So I would like to offer the reminder that playback isn't a panacea; sometimes it doesn't work. My reading of Chris McCreedy's original essay was quite simple - I think he's simply admitting that something feels graceless and cheap about pushing a button in order to push a bird's button. He's not on the offensive. He's just saying that something about it doesn't feel to him as sweet as encountering the bird without the mediation of a device. Perhaps there are those among us who feel otherwise - that the device-mediated/enabled encounter is superior. I haven't really met many people who feel that way. Most birders I know are more spellbound by the encounter that occurs with patience, or serendipity, or even sweat and hard work. And almost everyone I know seems to revel in intimacy with a species that includes an understanding of its place in the world. There are surely those who are not open to those dimensions, but they are hardly the majority in the birding world. Few boast that they care for nothing but the numeral that a bird encounter comes to mark. So I applaud Chris for his candor and for saying what so many of us have felt - that playback has an unsatisfying feel to it, quite often. Steve Howell notes that he doesn't use playback when birding with friends; I don't either, but I do audio-record birds more and more, as their vocalizations - which I used to think I knew well - are unbelievably varied, even in familiar species. There is so much to be learned, and I take a lot of pleasure in both the recording and in analyzing the recordings on the computer. I don't characterize this as evolution on my part, nor am I interested in a jihad against playback. But I think Chris is onto something important that has little to do with ethics and much to do with the simple enjoyment of our pastime on a personal, even private level. Good stuff.
In the discussion, I think "NPOL" is probably the best shorthand for the standard under discussion - I didn't mean to muddy the waters by using "equidistance" as synonym here - sorry about that.
I think it has been clear for many years that California counties use equidistance. How many state-level BRCs use equidistance in the East and Gulf? I'm sure that Massachusetts and the Carolinas would consider doing so, if they don't already - heck, that's over 126MM acres, most of the pelagic waters north of Florida. I don't find it a problem that eBird (in which the listing game is heavily foregrounded - and there is no way to opt out of the listing games, other than to hide personal records from output) uses equidistance for listing purposes. And eBird appears to be the latest locus of the discussion about equidistance. In the instance I cited above, regarding MD/VA and VA/NC boundaries, there is no question of overlap or gaps, no conflict or problem. Nothing needs to be solved. Books on state-level avifauna have been generated for several generations now, and records in state journals and in North American Birds have state-level attribution. If Virginia is to retain but a small wedge of its pelagic waters in the new dispensation, then woe unto the person who has to reckon, seabird by seabird, what stays and what goes. I'm not sure what value there would be in such an exercise. (I think if Ted or others want to volunteer the 1000+ hours, that would be another matter! Anyone?) In so many cases, the impetus behind birding pelagic trips has been state-level listing, even more than ABA Area listing. The information on seabirds has been gathered, since the late 1960s, by people willing to put in the effort, money, seasickness, etc. because they understood they were in waters attributed to one state or another state. So, to say the proposal has to do with legalities as decreed by the Supreme Court (that remarkably biased group of folks) is fine but disregards the history of pelagic birding/listing. I understand that eBirders want to be able to keep their lists by state and county, and I understand that the eBird team wants the data received by the project to be as accurate as possible. And so in order for the eBird listing games to function, the program needs a standard that is easily calculated. That makes sense. And why do these listing games need to be part of eBird? Well, it seems they are there in order to leverage a propensity toward lists that many birders have; in other words, we will provide the game board and score cards, if you provide the status/distribution raw data. (The relationship between fanning the flames of listing desire and receiving accurate data could be debated, but elsewhere.) But in fact, there is no necessity to have pelagic records tied to a state or to a county at all, Supreme Court or no. These could be in an Atlantic Ocean category or similar. (Many of my own pelagic eBird records are listed as "XX-" region and occur on no list at all. Oddly, my Atlantic list only has Bermuda birds on it! But I don't mind - I don't use eBird for keeping an Atlantic Ocean list. I like eBird most because it's a great way to look up old records quickly.) My own personal preference? That ocean waters have no connection at all to states - those should be presented otherwise (in NAB, for instance, I think they should have their own "regional report"). But this is not the sentiment of many people who go to sea in search of seabirds. Because pelagic records in the East have been fueled largely by listers, and state listers overwhelmingly, very few people would be made happy by the commonsense approach that acknowledges that a White-faced Storm-Petrel seen at a point equidistant from land in MD, NJ, and DE does not have much to do with those states. (And yes, one such record exists.) So, in case my point hasn't been clear: I have no problem with how listing gamers want to divide up the ocean. If BRCs also decide to revise how their bylaws define their reviewable areas, whether from pressure from listers or from the Supreme Court, then that's fine too. But in areas where the system works without problem or controversy, there seems to be little gained. (Unless you're a lister in states that gain a lot of ocean, e.g., Maryland, Massachusetts, or the Carolinas....)
Nate's suggestion to mix records from multiple areas in state-level databases does not work for me, but it would not surprise me if some committees change their by-laws to have "historical" seabird records segregated from modern ones in the fashion he suggests. My point wasn't at all that BRCs should or should not recognize the new areas proposed for listers. My point is that BRCs have no relationship with listing games at all. So there is no need to harmonize what BRCs do with what game-players do. This is not just true of seabird records: state BRCs do not instruct listers on what they may and may not "count", whether a vagrant or an introduced species or some gray-area bird that could be an escapee. It's fine if some listers want to use state committee decisions to guide them in what they include on their lists, but that sort of piggybacking is not part of the mission or by-laws of these committees. (Or do some state committees have by-laws that explicitly invoke authority as to the countability of birds?? I don't know of any.)
I have no problem with any dispensation used for the hobby of listing - after all, this has nothing to do with science, really, but is rather a game with players and rules and boundaries. The most avid listers make the rules, at least eventually, so if future listers decide that the nearest point of land is the way to go, then that's what the game board will look like. It's nothing to worry too much about, either way. State records committees have nothing to do with the game of listing. They exist in order to maintain avifaunal lists, and they set up their own review areas. Some committees do a lot more than that, but all of them at least maintain a list of what species have been satisfactorily documented in a state. It's true that some listers use a state's (or province's) official list for game purposes. That's fine. Other listers do not - they keep species/taxa on their lists that are not on the state's official lists. That's fine, too. In Virginia, the new arrangement proposed herein would eliminate most of the pelagic waters reviewed by the state's records committee for the past three or so decades. Most pelagic trips are taken out of Virginia Beach or Chincoteague, and those waters would be assigned to North Carolina and Maryland, for the most part, in the new scheme. The VARCOM (Virginia Committee) extends boundaries eastward from the states' two coastal borders, very simply. Maryland and North Carolina committees both respect these boundaries and share them. The coastlines of our states, especially Carolina and Virginia, shift a great deal over time to the east and west, depending on storms. So presumably "nearest point of land" would mean "nearest point of land on the day of the observation"? Fun. It's interesting that no one seems to be bothered by the fact that decades of published and reviewed records would need to be reassigned if the new listing scheme were to be put into effect. I don't hear a lot of people clamoring to do the many hundreds of hours of work there ... But fortunately, there need be no change in review areas for committees. There is no conflict between the proposed scheme and the long-settled avifaunal review areas of most state committees, because there is no necessary relationship between the work of an avifaunal committee and the game of bird listing. I think this point has been made by others (for instance, California counties don't have separate review committees, right? these are listing boundaries).
What a great discussion! Ted's ability to get conversations started never ceases to amaze me. I agree that we should avail ourselves of technology to the greatest extent possible, and I agree that ultimately all records should reside in a common repository. But the idea of mixing vetted and unvetted - or the idea that there is no vetting - is untenable. Anyone who has done eBird review comes to realize very quickly that there are many types of error in people's checklists, and working through these errors is time-consuming, humbling, mind-numbing. To remove vetting is to part company with the last semblance of science. I don't necessarily want a BRC to be popular or loved. But I also don't want people to connect BRCs with listing. They have nothing to do at all with listing. I realize some people may wish that to be the case, but I don't know of ANY committee whose by-laws contain language that suggest that the official list of the state's or province's birds is a list of "countable" birds. That's simply not what such a list is.
Yes, Chukchi Sea - so that is technically outside the Pacific, isn't it!
Toggle Commented Apr 30, 2012 on #ABArare - Northern Gannet - California at ABA Blog