Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Dr. Bob" tidbits about the Biggest Week in American Birding

Here are few "tidbits" that might  help plan your trip to Magee Marsh and surrounding areas. 

1) First, there is a detour along the main route 2 to get into the area from the west. I think a bridge is out or something, and it does not seem like it will be fixed by the Biggest Week (BW). Be sure to check out the main Biggest Week website to get the detour info as well as all the other info for the week!

2) I suggest you "cruise" the main site to see great links to all sorts of wonderful info. Click and pull down all the tabs at the top. One cool link is the Crane Creek blog by Kenn Kaufman predicting the status of migration. Hey, he has been there and checking it out for some years and he and his wife Kim are amazing birders, so I would pretty much rely on it. Yes, we all know the weather reporters on TV are often wrong, and I know predicting birds is an order of magnitude harder because they are based on weather, but Kenn normally is quite accurate. (BTW, Crane Creek basically is the same as Magee Marsh.)

3) Speaking of weather, this year has been quite fascinating for me to watch birding friends post satellite images of the bird migrations! Satellites - watching birds - astounding! Geez, these pics a lot of birds all flying at the same time!!! Imagine enough birds to make a "heavy cloud" on radar!!! Here is one example from Nemesis Birding: The site references other satellite stuff - you can just get lost in the fascination of this!

4) What an amazing blog team this year! They even added me to it. Honored indeed! Click on the underlined link to go to to the blog team page. Then click on each person's blog site. You will be amazed with the variety of views on the same subject. Some have lots of pics. Some ramble a bit (...but not as much as I?...). And all have great info!


OK. I put out some really good links to follow. I will close with another great link, but you gotta read down to get to it. Now I get to ramble more about our personal experiences. (More "tidbits" - numbering continues.)

5) While at Magee Marsh, we always like going to the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center  which is on the road to Magee Marsh. Besides the welcoming building (with flush toilets and running water - Judy especially appreciates it), we can always photograph and add Barn Swallows (nesting at the entrance) and Purple Martins (condo housing right outside the center) to our list. The center has good trails out back. If the leaves are not fully out, you might be able to climb the tower to see the Bald Eagles nesting!

6) We usually pull out our lawn chairs (hint - if you are driving, folding chairs are great things to put in your car! Geez, birding at Magee Marsh can be tiring!) and have lunch in the parking lot while picking up hummingbirds and "yard birds" - as well as some migrants - while eating. Afterwards, we can go in and wash up, and buy the "bird pin of the year" for our hats. They also have "year patches". Some folks we meet in the area are so adorned with pins and patches it reminds me of my years in scouting! The folks at the center are all volunteers and really helpful!

7) Another great place for lunch is at the Ottawa NWR Headquarters! It is very close to Magee Marsh - just to the west on Rte 2. The main building is large and comfortable - much larger than the Sportsmen's Center. It has meeting spaces and many BW activities are planned there. It has a great gift and book store, and again, is a place where the volunteers are very knowing and helpful. It has a great newer trail that goes thru different habitats to check out birds. Besides the main building, they have an outside building (also with running water ...) and several picnic tables under a shelter. You can eat lunch while watching birds in the nearby bushes. Last year a local organization had a food truck there serving fresh local fish (walleye!)sandwiches. Excellent! We had enough to take back to the motel and microwave for breakfast the next day!

Another really great thing is that Ottawa NWR opens up a huge part of the refuge to driving tours. Normally auto tours only are on selected weekends, but this year during the Biggest Week, it looks like they are open daily. You get a variety of habitats, and depending on water levels, you can get amazing shorebirds there! We especially remember not only the lovely Snowy Egrets, but also the nesting Trumpeter Swans and Bald Eagles - as well as numerous species of "duckers". It is a "must do"! The way the detour works, it seems if you are heading west home from Magee, start at Ottawa and do the tour, and then just head home on Rte 2 - you will have avoided the detour.

8) And, of course, be sure to visit the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) immediately off Rte 2 enroute to Magee Marsh. BSBO is the main driving force behind this event and has great vendors who support the BW by showing off the best birding optics, a great gift shop, and so much more.  Banding demos happen there and they have nice trails to walk.

Geez, if nothing else you can say you were at the "Black Swamp Bird Observatory"!  I think this name rolls off the tongue like a bird seen often this year in Michigan and Ohio - the "Yellow-bellied Sapsucker". Just imagine saying either of these to your friends! I just love it!

"Where did you go on vacation?"
"I went to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory".
"What did you see?" 
"Well I was looking for a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but all I got were a couple dozen amazingly beautiful warblers and twenty new additions to my life list". 
How cool is that?!!!  (Maybe you gotta be a birder to understand...but it would make a much more interesting t-shirt than "All I got you was this lously t-shirt" from some well-known attraction!) 

BTW, if you are birding this area, you are in the Black Swamp. It is an interesting history that I will not explore here, but ask at BSBO.

OK. I am tired of "rambling" for now. But I have given you links (with many more embeded links) to explore. The internet is really like a dictionary. Once you look up something, you are referred to another place .. and so on... 

Indeed! It sometimes is all too much, yet like a dictionary, you can quit and return when you want.

Basically, I presented a bit of what we like to do while birding in the area, and I gave you enough links to follow for the info you need - just keep following the links within each link. But if you follow no other links, be sure to check out the BW home page. And I really recommend checking out some of the blog team posts. I guarantee you will find a few blogs that you will want to follow not only during the BW, but thru the year.

And, I also suggest the online Visitor's Guide. It is the first time the guide is online and you can get it before visiting the area. You can get a hard copy when you are there, but it is so handy for planning before your trip!!!

(Note: I DO NOT recommend clicking on the "Download" button that appears on the right side! I did not notice it said "advertisement" in the same box so tried it. My McAfee software suggested it was not so good! )

But, it is fine to click on the pic of the guide and read it. You will not be able to print single pages like I tried to do, but it is safe to read it, and the software allows you to print the whole guide. Being "old fashioned" I just want the "book" that I will get at the Biggest Week. I have one from all the last few years when we visited there. Great reminders of wonderful times!!!

Hope you enjoyed my "tidbits"! Well, I guess I figured out another name for "ramble", but I numbered these, so they are "tidbits" ...

Go Bird! Go to the Biggest Week! You will have to wait a full year before you can do this again!!!

- "Dr. Bob"

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A ramble about the Biggest Week - first week of May in Ohio. Caution. R-Rated!

Caution, this blog is "R" rated - i.e., R for "ramble"!

Before I launch into a full-scale ramble, I want to start with some links to the Biggest Week website. In all the following ramble, just click on the highlighted words to go to the references.

If  you came here for some stuff about the Biggest Week in American Birding, I first refer you to excellent recent blogs from the 2013 blogger team. I can do no better. Geez! I am so honored to be included in this esteemed group of bloggers this year!!!
The Biggest Week 2013 Visitor's Guide is online. Be sure to check this out!!! It is a great planning guide for your trip! Normally you have to be there in Ohio to get a printed copy, and then it is a bit too late to plan some things. It is always a lovely guide, but this is a wonderful advancement! While you are checking it out, be sure to look me up on page 33! Honored indeed! My Michigan buddies Kim Smith and my mentor Jerry Jourdan are also on the blogger team. Check out the links and their updates and past posts. Great blogs! Also, please copy and paste the URLs from ALL the excellent bloggers on page 33 into your internet exploring program and follow them to see what they are doing! WOW! These folks are indeed great bloggers! Besides just the Biggest Week, I recommend you follow them all year for their birding exploits! I am so looking forward to meeting the other bloggers! Last year we met Dawn Simmons Fine (Biggest Week "uber blogger"!) whose mobile home - alas - will be parked elsewhere and exploring different birds this year.

Importantly, be sure to check the Crane Creek (= Magee Marsh - basically the same place with different name) blog for updates! (If you do not click on anything else, be sure to click that one!) And, for planning, check out the links you find there!

I embedded links to the highlighted stuff above. Please click on them and check them all out!!! Cinchy! Click  ... and away you go to new discoveries! What fun! You will find other  embedded links ("clicks") in each blog - that in themselves suggest more places to explore. Geez! This is more fun than the dictionaries when we had to look up each new word to discover what the last one meant!!! We went on forever as we gained knowledge - or at least enough knowledge to be satisfied.

Dawn (previous ref) revealed that CBS Sunday Morning News will be there on May 5! National media coverage for birders! So cool! Biggest Week birders in Ohio will be on the national news! (Set up your recorders!)

A great post from Greg Miller (the bird movie guy) offers really good suggestions on how to approach your visit and what to expect. You never know what weather will happen. I do not need to repeat here. It is a great read- almost everything I would have noted. This guy can ramble, and also has great pics! Check it out!

This is a story about the Biggest Week In American Birding. But first, a digression. "R" ...
We have been having a great time birding here in southest Michigan over the last week. I have lots of pics, and need to blog about them soon. But as always, I tend to take so many pics - most of which need to be deleted - that "post processing" becomes a chore. Oh, I do have some great ones, but how to select? And, this blog is really about the Biggest Week and not what we have been doing last week. Yet, I cannot resist sharing pics from this week! Three of my best pics ever I think. All were very lucky!

Horned Grebe at my feet at Stoney Creek Metro Park

Female Belted Kingfisher flying at Stoney Creek Metro Park
Ruby-crowned Kinglets in love!
OK, back on subject! (I warned you this was "R-rated...).

The post-processing thing emphasizes the same problem I have every year during the Biggest Week In American Birding in northwest Ohio! But the problem is so much worse there! During our trips we shoot so many pics (hundreds!) that we still have not processed most from a couple years ago! So it goes ... 

But what a lovely burden to have unpublished memories yet to be revisted! Yes, my blogs of the future recalling my memories of the last few years certainly will not tell you what birds are to be found in Ohio this year, but when you read it ten years from now (... oh, forever the dreamer, am I!...), I suggest maybe there are birdie trends that repeat - similar to fashion trends that happen, disappear, then return - think 50's. 60's, 70's fashions here. Well, maybe? OK, fine. I know with global warming and such, this trending thing may become more unlikely and unpredictable. I digress again, , but you were warned ("R"),

New technology is truly amazing! When I was leading field trips on the West Coast in the 1970's, I used to take along at most four rolls of 36 exposure film. It was because of the expense. Not only the cost of film (not so much  the film cost), but really because of the cost of developing and making slides or prints. Another factor was that after a day at an incredible new spot, the ambiance and beauty just became "normal", and I never realized until I came back that I should have taken more pics! This is where I started to think about my current mantra "Shoot, shoot, shoot"! 

It was because - besides my lack of money for processing lots of pics - I never understood what I might want to see on my return home. After each return home, I wished I had taken more shots of the wonderful environments, of the people I was with, and the plants and critters we saw. Each new exploration was all so amazing and wonderful, that after maybe a day, I just accepted it as reality.

No. Reality was when I returned to Los Angeles and was trying to explain to friends and students what I had experienced. Many had never even left an urban environment! Reality was when I remembered amazing encounters (Redwoods, Yosemite falls, ocean waves crashing over a rocky beach, the spread of flowers on a desert floor when you could not walk without stepping on one, and so on. Reality was I wished I had taken more pics of my companions.  Reality was trying to explain an experience. It was like trying to "explain" the beauty of a sunset, or what it is like to fall in love.

"Shoot, shoot, shoot"! And - now with the internet - share, share, share!

Then it would have been almost impossible for me to take pics of the silly flighty beings of my current obsession! Now I can use cheap (free) "film" and a camera where I can hold down the button and take multiple pics. In the old days the really expensive cameras had "motor drives" to advance the film, but certainly not my camera.

Birds are always in motion! Even when they stay in one spot on a branch unobscured by stuff in the way, they are constantly feeding, or watching out for predators, or just "picking" (tending to feathers). They rarely "pose" and show their "best side". I have learned that if I can get a focus and hold down the shutter button, I might catch a decent shot. The rest I can delete. (Yes, the "post-processing thing" that delays my postings ...). I trust to luck, and sometines I do fine.

Oh, I SO wish I had the same technology then!  The "West" is so amazing, yet I have so few photos from my former life. 

I think I was a better photographer then because I usually took only one or two pics at a site, and really knew more about f-stops, depth of field, and all that. Our trips went from Mexico to British Columbia - the ocean, mountains and deserts and even offshore islands! And so many national parks! What adventures! Yes, I do have a treasured few hundred slides from those days (that I would love to digitize!), but, "if only" digital had existed back then! Different world now!

Interestingly, Ansel Adams (famous photographer of the Sierras) would set up his large format film camera and wait hours for just the right lighting for his shot. Everything was set. Click! One (amazing) shot! Different world! What a maestro!  And, Ansel Adams was shooting scenics. Mountains do not move. Bird photography is different! Darn flighty things rarely stop and pose!

However, with the advent of essentially free photographic captures, and with the ability to fire off multiple shots by just holding down the button, it is now possible for regular folks like us to get good pics! The "snap and shoots" of today have far more capability than many of the old film cameras. Unlike the old Kodaks, they have optical zoom capabilities. BTW, never get into the digital zoom area with your cameras. All it does is magnify your shake. Shoot perhaps at the max optical zoom, and wait until you get to a computer to enlarge.

But, I digressed ("rambled") as always. ("R") Now back to our regularly scheduled program ...

Even in the midst of a great birding spring in Michigan, I have been cogitating on, preparing for, and almost salivating over our planned annual trip to the "Biggest Week". At the same time, I am feeling so guilty about really not blogging our experiences from last year. (Oh, I feel an "R" coming on ...)

Indeed, I really do feel guilty. I blog to tell my friends about our experiences, and I hope y'all like them. Interestingly, I know that lots of y'all read them. I saw on the stats tonight I have had over 19,000 hits on my blog since it began not so long ago! Hey! That is cool! And, yet, I have had probably only three dozen comments - either directly on the blog, or by e-mails. Yes, I know that to leave comments on a blog, some sites make you sign in to something, so I understand why. This is why I often can not leave comments on even my favorite blogs. Blogs are not like Facebook where it is easy to leave comments. Well, I guess that is the life and times of a blogger. What an altruistic bunch of folks like me making the world a more interesting place! :)

But I also blog to record for myself - a verbal ramble to accompany the hundreds of pics I took. Or sometimes - like tonight - just to transcribe written thoughts. My blog is a "family album", if you will. It is a "story book" of times we have. It is something that I can use to recall past places and times.Well, for me, maybe it is OK to personally miss the ramble in the sense that each photo brings back a snapshot of not only the object photographed, but also my memories of the surrounding minutes when the photo was taken. I recall the excitement, the people, the whole "gestalt"! But as I age, my recorded words would really help support the visuals.

Interestingly, I remember in the 70's I had formulated a hypothesis that each photo would trigger my brain to remember 15 minutes of my life. Yes, really, I figured it was at least 15 minutes. And indeed, I DID remember all of the environment and circumstances associated with each photo then! But I was "sharper" then, and had fewer over-loaded neurons fighting for connection!  Actually it might be more than 15 minutes, but I forget and digress again...

Now I have a different problem. The older brain does not connect as quickly or as fully as my younger brain (young brain had far less neuronal connections than my lifetime has embellished the current brain with). At some point does the brain become "full"?  I recall that someone I well respected said long ago that to learn new facts, you  have to lose other facts. Maybe he was right. (Yet I still tend to hold onto my notion that our brains remember everything we have ever encountered ... it is just a matter of being able to access the information ...).  I am still learning, and yet I know I am forgetting... maybe new information really does supercede old info? Or does brain capacity decline? (Subject of another blog  ... if I can remember I want to do it ...). "R"

And now,  because of technology, I am losing the need to work the brain as my primary recording device at all. It does not matter with television (TV) shows. If  I miss something, the recording box allows me to rewind and replay. But, having "trained" (?) my brain with multiple rewinds and repetitions of the TV box thing ("I missed that, rewind"), now it is weird that I want to replay a radio clip in the car or a visual image of a  bird . "What? I missed that? Rewind." This does not work. My brain has been trained to not now be bothered with immediacy because I can always rewind! NO WAY! No rewinds on life experiences!!! New technology replaces old technology, but with what consequences?

Yes, it extends to birds. I am becoming lax and less focussed. "Cool! Was that a lifer Houndstooth Hawkeater that just flew over? Let me see that again"! NOPE, no replays except for TVs with "the box"! Weird how we become habituated! When experienced birders tell us "newbies" to observe and record details in a field notebook, and to sketch the bird, they are really onto something! I now understand why some of my birding heroes like Allen Chartier (and others) here in Michigan pestered me told me to use binoculars first before trying to catch a bird pic. Yes, maybe they got tired of seeing fuzzy shots as a I posted a "Whazzit" for ID, but they always responded. My birding heroes always responded! I now know they were really hoping I would become a birder, and helping me to that goal! Sure, fuzzy pics and all, they mostly had a great guess that I would have accepted, but they saw that was not the point! I only wanted at the time for a name to go with my pics. Silly. I would have stopped further growth right then. They knew better! I have grown so much because of the support of the birding community. Indeed, the same reinforcement and message applies to "old farts" as well as kids.  I have grown so much. What an amazing community and what great birding friends!  Thanks SO much to everyone! (Oh, but that I had pics to accompany some of my questions now. Really! "The Hawkeater had two beaks that looked like fangs ...") But, I do think I am a better  birder now.

I have seen some amazing pics of pages from some young birders' notebooks shared on the Michigan birders listserv! Whew and Wow! Not only amazing talent, but certainly a model of how to work their brains to retain the memory. Far better than a photo! These are rare kids (we have a few in Michigan that I have been following). I certainly applaud the move of several Audubon chapters (I know only Ohio and Michigan at  present because that is where I watch them) to enlist and mentor more birders when they are kids. These kids are growing up with far better observational skills, and certainly more talent for recording their sightings and sketches in notebooks than I ever had! They have great teachers! Interestingly many are home-schooled. (Lest I digress again...) "R"

I have photos - thousands of photos! Instead of a "gestalt", I now have perhaps a half-dozen or more pics of a bird on the same branch. Sure, I delete most of them, but sometimes I get some very lucky shots of birds "doing", and I usually get enough pics to help me compare my pic with the bird books on return from a trip to identify the birds. But where are my memories? Well, actually the act of comparison of my pics to books- especially when I use several field guides -  definitely reinforces my learning! It is an active process. Not bad at all! Yet, I do suggest there is more from  my birding experiences.. Well maybe here it is a "cop out" for not filling my blog with incredible birdie images from Ohio, but birding is also about the experience and memories of a trip than just the birds sighted. 

Lest y'all "tune out" totally from just rambling words, here are a few bird pics from Ohio last year. As I implied, I have hundreds more. But now I am doing my ramble ...

Black-crowned Night Heron behind the Marathon station between Magee Marsh and Port Clinton
(They clean fish there in the afternoons ...)

Eastern Screech Owl (lifer) napping and unaffected by all its admirers on the boardwalk

Scarlet Tanager - one of the birds in "the books" you hope to see some day!

Scarlet Tanager at Magee Marsh boardwalk. About 8 feet away!!! Wow!

I have so many great bird pics from our Ohio trip! However, it turns out that in retrospect, most of our memories have to do with people. It is SO easy for a "newbie" to get "lifer birds", but how about the other memories? From the Biggest Week last year, I well remember meeting Kenn and Kim Kaufmann, Jeff Loughman, Charles Owens, Sherrie Duris, Katie Anderson, and SO many more folks at the Birding Ohio Facebook "Meet and Greet" at Porky's Pizza. Many of the the birders who make the Biggest Week happen were there. These are only a few pics of an amazing group of "regular folks"  who support an extraordinary event! I have had the great pleasure of following their adventures on Facebook ever since. I met them. I know them, and learn more each day. Again, I note I am honored!

Dawn Simmons Fine, Jeff Fine, and Jerry Jourdan
Kimberly Kaufman, Jeff Loughman, and Katie Andersen

Gunnar Engblom tunes while Jerry Jourdan prepares for the Bird Party song

Two of my favorite "heroes"! With Kenn Kaufman and Jerry Jourdan - a treasured photo!!!

At our first meeting, Judy and Dawn became fast friends! Dawn's husband Jeff in birding ball cap.

"With this Birding Ohio Meet and Greet badge, I again betroth my love for you and all  birds we love!"
(Well, I just made up the caption, but it was great to see "lovebirds"!!! Like all my bird pics, a lucky shot!) 
(Breaking news for Birding Ohio FB friends: Gunnar Engblom will again be back at the Biggest Week, and will be at the "Meet and Greet" on May 5 with two songs - the original "Bird Party" from last year, and a new one)! He will be coming from and returning to Peru! Maybe the record for the longest trip?

Thinking about distance traveled, it is always wonderful to count the states on license plates we see in the parking lot! I cannot now remember how many states we saw last year, but it was more than two dozen. And, some plates were personalized with birdie names. It is another cool thing to look for and count during the trip. We shot several plates, but I am now just rambling, and the post-processing has yet to be done... "R"

I have lots of pics of birders along the boardwalk, and pics of most of the incredible guides (wearing yellow caps) from all over the world,  but my current mental hard drive capacity suggests I must post this ramble and these few pics now lest a ramble from last year never be posted before a cycle of fashion repeats ...

I well remember meeting so many friends on the boardwalk. I remember the great guides who told everyone where to look for a bird whose name they spoke. I remember all the unknown "regular" birders who always answered our question of "What do you see?" and pointed it out to us! I remember the excitement that coursed thru an area on the boardwalk when someone saw someting new. And I well remember the Woodcock flying over the boardwalk to excited shouts of wonder!  One of the few times when birders vocalized so loudly. So cool! I remember someone (I later found out it was "Bird Chick") with her scope pointed at the special owl offering to shoot a pic thru anyone's cell phone. I remember so much it defies my ability to blog a year later! Geez! I need a laptop computer to be more "on the scene"!  (Ah, but would I do that from the boardwalk? Probably not!) Wonderful memories!  

Within any group of people on the boardwalk, there is undoubtedly an expert. Judy and I know very few by sight. But, we knew from past years that if you see the "Mayor of the Boardwalk" sitting anywhere, it is quite worthwhile to be quietly respectful and try to see what he is watching. He is always watching something notable! We are not "locals" and have not gone there enough to know everyone, but we certainly know the "Mayor"! Maybe in the first year of visiting this special birding paradise, you will not know anyone, but I guarantee no one cares whether it is your first visit or if you are a "regular"! Standard courtesy applies and you will be accepted as if you are indeed as "one of the gang"! There are so few opportunities in life like this!

The "Mayor of the Boardwalk" finally takes a break!

We also remember the folks at Metzger Marsh sharing great views of special birds, and even lowering their scopes so petite Judy could see - and I remember Judy's excitement the year before last in seeing a Snipe - a bird that she always thought was the stuff of camping jokes ("snipe hunt" - right! It is a real and special bird!).

And we especially remember a personal experience that Judy and I had the week before the Biggest Week last year. Things were not really "popping" at the boardwalk yet, but we met a guy (Thank you so much!) on the boardwalk who told us of another place to check out (Camp Sabrosky). Besides getting to see lots of Rusty Blackbirds (lifers!) and lovely wading birds there, we met a couple of wonderful local kids who really knew birds, but even better, offered to show off their prize goats as we walked back to the car. It really made Judy's day! (... and mine!!!). Indeed! It is the people we meet who make our days!!!
Birding is fun! But I caught a lifer here!

Ever kissed a goat? Another "lifer"! Ah, memories ...
Yes, I treasure the photographic opportunities of seeing birds "up close and personal". This amazing area allows folks with "regular" cameras to capture shots of a lifetime! And, certainly I remember seeing so many birds that we have never seen before ("lifers")! Each year brings new lifers! But I guess some primary  images my brain recorded had to do with the wonderful people who are birders!!! In my haste to get this blog posted, I only offered a very few examples.

I now leave this blog with most of my bird images still in my photographic files, and will share them when I can. Hey, a brain can only hold so much! So it is great that I can now offload pics to a hard drive rather than have them clogging my limited remaining mental storage! Oh ... but if it wereonly possible for me to be able to "upgrade" to a larger mental "hard drive"!!! I just wish it were that easy!

The Biggest Week bloggers already have posted great illustrated blogs about their experiences. And, I would only be repeating what they said, so I referred you to them at the start. So what you have left here is another "Dr. Bob Ramble". I urge you to check their blogs before you go to Ohio!

Hey! If you see us during the Biggest Week, please be sure to come up and say "Hi"! One of Judy's favorite memories of any place we visit is when someone walks up to us and asks  "Are you "Dr.Bob and Judy?"
As a side note, I seem to being doing more on Facebook (FB) these days rather than posting on birding listservs  - maybe the wave of the future? I can only do so much ... So, if interested, see if you can "friend"  me on FB to keep in touch. And then, while also on FB, check out traffic to the FB Birding Ohio FB posts and the recent Southeast Michigan Birders - this will be big! Thanks to Jeff Loughman (Ohio) and Charles Owens (SE Michigan) for understanding how folks get birding updates now!
Y'all still awake? (I cautioned y'all that it was "R" rated!) :)

We hope to see y'all there!!!
- "Dr. Bob"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Beaudette Park bird signage project

I have been working off and on for a couple of weeks to drop onto my PBase site more pics of the birds I shot at Beaudette Park in Pontiac (Oakland County, Michigan).

I was honored to be asked by a local minister who is working with the Friends of the Pontiac Parks Association (URL is to their Facebook site - it is really great that a group is taking on the task to make Pontiac Parks more accessible and valued!)  to prepare signage to cover the boards at the entrance kiosk to Beaudette with posters including the birds of the park. She had searched the internet about Dawson's Mill Pond or Beaudette Park and found a blog I wrote some time ago.

Hence, you see the assignment that triggered my last blog ... I wanted a total of all birds that have been recorded there to accompany my text.

I put together some slides to add to her presentation to the City of Pontiac that included answers to her questions. Mind you, it was extremely hard for a person who "rambles" to be "short and sweet" with more "word sound bites" than being able to fully express my delight in this place!!! But I think (and she said so) that I passed along what was needed.

She will use my words and many of my pics (I put candidate pics on PBase) to pass along to Staples who will be making the signage for free. (Kudos to Staples!!!) I am not sure at this point how much artistic control I have over the outcome, but it will certainly be better than the present bare particle board. And, most importantly, I am very happy that the birds of this very special place - along with basic birding info - will be shown to the public as a major feature of the park!!! 

Here I include only my slides extracted from her PowerPoint presentation. But, it was very interesting to see the history of Dawson's Mill Pond (the special impoundment at Beaudette) on her other slides. I know her research continues. And, it was especially interesting because we live along the Clinton River a few miles downstream from the dam. I never knew the history before.

I hope my words do justice to what birders might want to show to the general public. I know they are far from complete (geez, it is SO hard not to "ramble"!), but I think I caught the essence.

Please check out my pics on PBase (hyperlinked above) to see what they are working with. 

I would appreciate comments please. It is a great place to watch birds - especially in winter and during spring migration!

I answered my eBird question and learned a lot in the process!

Whew! I have a new way to see what birds were reported in an area near an eBird Hotspot. In doing so I was able to re-create some cool data I saw during the GBBC. OK, I got it!

But, it does not allow me to do what I want.

OK, here is what I want:

I want to get a total checklist of birds from one area over time. Case in point, how many birds have ever been recorded from Beaudette Park in Pontiac?

Note: all below references start with Explore Data in eBird.

On my first cut, I used the "All Time First Sightings" and selected Beaudette Park as a Hotspot.  I fugured that any list of all birds must have had a first sighting - right? Yes, this is true.

It gave a total, but was a bit weird because the first recorded checklist was from 1974 and included, for example, Mute Swans in mid-summer as a first sighting. True, and it was the first record of the species at Beaudette, but these guys hang around all year! What it really told me that a life-long birder is entering life-long data into eBird, and this represents one of the earliest checklists there! . Really that is SO cool!!! Kudos to you Jim VanAllen!!! Whew, what a job you are taking on!!! And we will all really benefit from your efforts!!! If everyone entered historical data into eBird, it would start to approach all-time sightings. Yet so many of the wonderful first heroes of birding only kept their records in their field books - hopefully now housed in museums. For a real "first time arrival" (i.e., the earliest recorded arrival),  the Cornell eBird folks would need great funding and an army of data loggers to do this task!

The next record of a Mute Swan was from 2000 which is more like when eBird became a birding tool. It will really be interesting to see how records accumulate as more life-long birders like Jim enter their data into eBird!

The total species recorded this slice was 107 - not too shabby for a small urban park!

The next slice I requested was going to "Arrivals and Departures" and chosing Arrivals. (Hey, if the bird was ever recorded there it had to arrive... right?) This made more sense. The results had the same number of species (107), but it showed (over the same period - 1974 to 2013) the earliest recorded "arrival" (i.e., the earliest date in any year when someone recorded the bird presence into eBird).

I refined it a bit and found that in 2013, so far 47 species are recorded there. Powerful tool!

Yet, I was still uneasy (see previous blog...). I can only query about the Beaudette Park Hotspot to get this data. What if there are personal eBird spots around there? Will the data be combined? The answer is "NO".

So I tried another slice of data. I picked "Point and Range Maps" under Explore Data.

This only works species by species and is another powerful tool. It is what I had seen during the GBBC and was quite fascinated with.

So, I picked a species fairly common at Beaudette Park, but not so common as to overwhelm the data: Hooded Merganser. I kept zooming in until I reached the max zoom with Beaudette centered. The Hotspot flag was there, but also four personal location flags for which "hoodies" had been recorded. YES! That is my answer and complemented the question I was raising before. It allowed me to see the names of the birders who had reported the bird in question on personal hotspots. And - significantly - all four are experienced birders, yet none of their observations had been included on the other "slices" of data I made for the Beaudette Park Hotspot!

So ... I now wonder how many species have really been recorded at Beaudette Park? Maybe it is the same, but I suspect it might be much higher if their personal sites would be merged with the Hotspot!

I know eBird could do a combined "patch" to see the combined total. But I think I can only do "patches" and "yards"  for my own data. One solution is to allow eBird users to create "patches" or data slices by "drawing"  a circle/box/whatever around an area within the Arrivals and Departure tool. I seem to remember this was proposed on eBird Tech Talk awhile back. I also know it will be an intensive (and expensive) software thing to do. But that is what I want. I want all the birds recorded at this park.

Having said that, I realize that this does not address the question I proposed originally in my last blog. It will not help at all at giving a list of all birds at e.g., Stoney Creek Metro Park Nature Center if people are only recording birds as "Stoney Creek Metro Park - Macomb County".  And - see comments in previous blog - I am comfortable at how it works. But, just maybe, if people have the opportunity to draw a circle around an area to combine the data from a trip, they will be more interested in being more specific.

Bottom line:

I think in my last blog, I first had proposed a solution to the wrong question about using Hotspots . Yes, never a solution first - first a question! I think I have  a better idea of what I need, and here proposed the right question. "Ring around an area?"

In the process, I reaffirmed the difficulty of getting people to be more specific. It will always be easier to record birds from a larger area than a specific spot included in the area. I am quite guilty of this myself as well.

Yet, I also learned SO much! Many birders are indeed being more specific! Now an additional question has arisen again about how to combine them for a list of all birds for an avifauna of a special place!!!

Fascinating,  this birding and eBird stuff are ...