Monday, July 28, 2014

July 27 (Day 208) - Idahizzle? Fo' shizzle! Thoughts on listing, a teaser for gull aficionados,

If Calvin Broadus aka Snoop Dogg were to visit Idaho, this might be how he would announce his arrival. My rather muted entrance into the state was made this afternoon along the eastern shore of Bear Lake. Idaho represents state #25 on the Biking for Birds national bird finding tour. I will only be in Idaho for a single night before I cross into Wyoming en route to Jackson. I will, after birding Jackson, return to Idaho near Idaho Falls. From there I plan to head west to Boise and then into Oregon and probably Washington. 
Obligatory bike shot 

Today's ride was more challenging than I expected. The first 32 miles (yes, 32) were all uphill as I navigated through Logan Canyon. Over this distance I climbed almost 3,500'. What made the ride so tough was that the pitch of the road kept increasing along these 32 miles. I thought the grade was going to be fairly steady, so the very steep and difficult top third of the climb was a big surprise. Needless to say I wasn't in the best mood during this stretch of things. There were some really nice alpine meadows along the last few miles of the climb, but given how my legs were aching and how hungry I was, I didn't even bother to scan them for hummingbirds. All I wanted to do was reach the top and begin the decent on the other side. The second part of the ride was either downhill or flat, so my tired legs were able to manage the remaining 24 miles without incident.

The view of Bear Lake from the top of Logan Canyon.
Idaho is off to the left hand side of the photo.

A tough 56 miles today.

This region of Idaho is famous for raspberries, and
my hosts for the night have a huge berry patch in their yard.
And yes, I did pick and eat the whole 1-quart jar!

OK, since birding related news is nonexistent today, I'll touch on a topic that I think will interest many birders: bird listing. I think we can all understand the thrill of adding new birds to our ever-growing life lists. This thrill is compounded when the bird being added is out of its normal range. Why then are so many birders so cagey when it comes their own lists and listing proclivities? Why do so many birders want to avoid being labeled "listers"?

***Note, I realize that I am GENERALIZING below based on my own experience/observations***

There is not one specific answer to this question, but this is how I think about biases towards listers.  I suspect that many people feel that being a lister and a student of birds are mutually exclusive. A lister is thought, in my mind, to be someone who is concerned primarily with adding birds to his or her list. This person will often chase, or as I like to say "poach", high quality birds found by others rather than methodically birding the same areas over and over with the goal of thoroughly learning and enjoying the birds of a particular locale. I think that there is a feeling among some in the birding community that the second approach is nobler than the first, and because of this, listers are often thought to be in the birding game for the wrong reasons.

What many people fail to realize is that these two pursuits are not mutually exclusive.  For example, I am an unabashed lister. I have always been so, and likely always will be. However, as my Biking for Birds should prove to everyone, I am also very serious about bird conservation and bird education. This is my current mechanism to enjoy birds, and it encompasses many facets and motivations. When I return from this year, I am sure I will fall back into my photography-centric view of birds (I will also touch on the ongoing birder vs. bird photographer war at some point!). The point is that there is no right and wrong way to enjoy birds. The important thing is that people do what interests them with an eye towards understanding, appreciating, and conserving the birds they enjoy so much (you can donate to bird conservation here!). The more people who watch, list, learn about, and photograph birds, the larger our collective voice will be when we fight to protect the birds we love so much. We should focus on our common appreciation of birds, rather than delineating the rather minute differences between various bird-focused pursuits. 

Anyway, these are just some of my personal thoughts. I expect a flurry of emails and blogpost comments in response to this!

Lastly, since we are on the topic of listing. Here is a photo of a bird I took in Massachusetts in April of 2011. I have another photo (to which I do not have access as it in on my other computer) that shows a large window on the outer-most primary and a tiny window on the next primary; There were no other primary windows. 

This bird (I am deliberately being vague on the name/ID) was not accepted by the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee (MARC). I did not count it on my official ABA list. I have been torn for 3 years what to do about this bird with regards to my list. Should I add it despite the MARC decision? Should I wait for to find a bird that has been OK'd by the requisite birding bodies?  Should I stop worrying so much about the technicalities of my list? I am sure other folks have had similar experiences, so I am curious to hear what folks have to say! Comments in the blog would be preferable to emails since everyone can read these. It would be great to get some more discussion going between readers, not just between individual readers and me! Depending on how this little experiment goes, I may try to throw out more discussion points in upcoming weeks. For example, in a Wrestlemania-styled Battle Royale between North America's top birders, who do you think would emerge victorious? My money is on Debbie Shearwater! "If you're gonna throw up, throw up over the SIDE of the ring, not in the ring!" There are few hardcore birders in North America who haven't heard that speech. You know I love you Debbie! 

For those unfortunates not well-versed in
professional wresting, this is a Battle Royale!

Kenn "The Macho Man" Kaufman back in the 80s

I mean c'mon, who wouldn't want to see David Sibley in this?
You see that warbler over there?  - WOOOOOOOOO!


  1. I'm a lister, but I'm a county lister. I do sometimes twitch a good sighting by someone else, but I often whiff on it. Example: I whiffed on a recent Rock Wren here in Ohio, but I got the Black Rail. For me, it's much more satisfying to find a county Eurasian Wigeon, or Ross's Goose, or Long-tailed Duck, or Red-necked Grebe (all in a county without a large lake or reservoir) than to twitch someone else's find in an adjacent county WITH a lake or reservoir. It's amazing what those gravel pits and fishing ponds will sometimes hold!

  2. As one becomes more versed in birding the challenge becomes to find new challenges. Listing can facilitate this process. If one has the time and money you can travel to far away places and find new life birds; if not, one can look for new county or state birds. Whatever keeps you heading out into the field to experience and appreciate the birds and the world we both share is a good thing.

  3. So did you think it was a YLGU and the committed said it may be a LBBG x HERG bastard child? Here is my thought on Records Committees--they mean nothing to me. Too much of the time members of committees are part of a nepotistic and archaic organization that don't always represent the most knowledgeable or best suited individuals for the job. This is not true of all committees or members--but having been someone who has submitted dozens of records you quickly learn who and what committees are simply put, full of shit. And I know a growing number of serious birders who feel the same way I do. The last record I submitted to a committee was in 2008 or 9. But that doesn't stop those reports from being validated in eBird, especially when evidence is provided to fuel the report. I've learned over the 20+ years I've been birding that even though I make mistakes from time to time, a lot of those committee guys/gals, make just as many if not more mistakes.

    And as for counting birds like that despite a records committee I say this, if you have some type of evidence or previous experience with said species, and you can put together a valid argument, that others agree with--it's your list, you can put whatever you want on it. That being said, if you have Black Swan, Little Tern, and Parakeet Auklet on your state life list and you live in a mountain west state--you might need to reconsider how you are deciding what goes on YOUR list.

  4. I don't see any problem with being a lister UNLESS the person breaches legal and environmental rules to obtain such birds. Trespassing, trampling on vegetation, blocking a road, endangering lives, annoying the public, etc for the sake of counting birds goes against the ethics of birding. I see the side from non-listers, that we should be enjoying the birds and not hunting them. BUT, listing is like a treasure hunt. You know what the treasure could be, you just have to be smart enough to predict where/when it'll be there. There isn't anything shameful about listing and there is certainly no reward outside of personal satisfaction, but I've known several birders whose reputation have been tarnished by mis-ID'ing a few species. And I'm just as guilty as there are several species with such minute differences that making a claim for a rare species is always a risk if not 100% sure. I live along the coast in California, so seeing that gull above... my guess would be Western. Then again, my guess is always Western.

  5. Ah, you got my attention. I bird and I take photos and I write about it in my blog. But I also write about traveling and gardening and every thing else under the sun and anything that gets my attention. I haven't written about you yet but might do so at some point to add your link to donate. I'm waiting to see how you do - HA HA - and, oh yeah, I have my own warped sense of humor. At any rate, I do keep a list these days but it's not the reason I go out birding. Up until 2014, I had been keeping my own list with notes but this year I decided to start listing on And that has been an experience. I run into that little problem when I possibly mis-identify a bird and some reviewer somewhere sends me an email asking for more particulars. Since I am not an ardent birder who studies the guides a lots, I usually figure I made the mistake but I do not usually change my list. I figure it's what I saw until I learn enough to know I didn't see what I thought I saw (ain't that a mouthful?).And I'm comfortable that the reviewer might not accept my sighting. On the other hand, my biggest issue with eBird is going back all those years and looking at my lists and adding them to eBird so I can keep up with my lifelist. However, now that I've rambled on for a bit, I'll get back to the original question. I do not call myself a "lister" although I keep a list or two. I think of "listers" as people who bird every day and keep meticulous records and are much better birders than I am. But, then again, I do not really call myself a "birder". I have always liked bird watcher or bird seeker but I have to admit that I look at everything I find out in nature and get distracted by butterflies and lichen and bugs and snakes (but don't mess with them) and flowers and whatever. But somehow, "nature-er" doesn't have the same sound as birder....just doesn't roll of the tongue. But I am on MD Birding and DE Birding listservs and I do sometimes go chasing a rare bird. I have never thought of it as letting someone else do the birding and then I follow their directions and take the easy way. I guess I just figured it was mutual and if someday I happen to see a rare bird, someone will follow my directions, etc. Just haven't seen that very rare bird yet.....saw some really cool lichen the other day though.

  6. I view records committees as a crucial peer-review system for rare bird records on the state level. Sure, records can be validated on eBird, but just one or two people are often responsible for this, so it is less democratic and potentially less consistent than the records committee approach. Records committees members are human and definitely make mistakes. They are also forced into the position of needing to vote up or down on each record, and this does not allow for subtleties like "90% sure this is a Yellow-legged Gull, but could possibly be a hybrid LBBG x HERG". Each committee member needs to vote the way they are most comfortable in terms of Type I and Type II error rates, and by its nature this can often be subjective. I think records committees are often on the conservative side, because they view it more acceptable to keep borderline records out of the official record rather than let them into the dataset. Almost always, even rejected records are kept on hand so that they can be evaluated in the future if standards or knowledge change.

    As someone who's sat on a records committee, I can assure you that often committee members believe a person's sighting, but the documentation is of such low quality that it is impossible to vote for the record's acceptance based on that documentation. For birders who are interested in rare bird finding and listing and having their records taken seriously, it is of utmost importance to learn how to produce a good write-up of the rarities you see, regardless of whether or not there are good photos.

    Tim, if you are so sure you would make a better committee member, you should apply to be on the committee, and if there is no application process, you should rally with others in the birding community for a system of governance on the committee that is a bit more democratic and less of an old boys' club. Term limits, announcements of vacancies, application process, etc.

  7. I went to see that possible Yellow-legged Gull in Hyannis too. I'm not counting it. According to the MARC report a gull showed up at the same spot in November 2011 in winter plumage that was consistent with Lesser Black-backed X Herring and not with Yellow-legged Gull. I don't believe this was a coincidence and this was probably the same gull from April.

    Generally I go along with the Avian Records Committee when it comes to identification, but not when it to comes to provenance. Narrow-minded committees have been rejecting perfectly valid records as escapees for decades. As we learn more about bird migration and behavior their errors are now coming to light. They used to routinely reject records of vagrant geese as being captive birds. Now we know these birds do travel from the far north to the U.S. I photographed a Canada Goose on the UMASS Campus Pond that had been collared in Greenland.

  8. I am no expert on Gulls but I am very curious as to why this isn't a Lesser Black-backed Gull or hybrid. I am thinking the lighter color of the upper parts lends fuel to the hybrid Herring x LBBG. Size is not something I can evaluate based on the photo,but a Yellow-footed Gull is considerably larger then Lesser Black-backed are there other photos showing this bird towering above a Herring Gull? Maybe the somewhat rounded head shape evident in this photo was not typical for this bird?

  9. Firstly, I think that in the Birder WWE Battle Royale, my money's on Greg Miller. I say this solely because the guy loosely based on him in the movie The Big Year was played by the star of Nacho Libre, so presumably he knows something about wrasslin.

    As for keeping a list... oh sure, I do it. I don't see how this could interfere with one's birding (as John M said above - providing you follow good birding ethics, of course). I mean, I'm always excited to add somebody new to the ole life list, but it's always been "Ooh, newbie! Cool!" A lifer means I got to see something new + different. I've never thought that upping the total was the only good thing about seeing the bird. (OK... almost never. Looking your way, Boat tailed Grackle.)

    This may be the perspective of a relative amateur. (My life list total is currently less than Dorian's list for 2014.) I remember reading (in the fine book, Kingbird Highway) how Macho Man Kenn Kaufman + three others whose names I don't recall bagged 225 species a day (!) in Texas. Part of me was thinking "That's awesome!" Part of me was also thinking "That's kinda whack." At one point, Kaufman writes how the team gluttonously wasted 30 seconds looking at a bird. I get the motivation, they were good enough to do it and wanted to see if they could, that's just too intense for my tastes (or skill level).

    Still, like deciding what your benchmark is for counting a species on your list, to each his own.