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"


Diana Evans said...

Grea & intersting blog!

James Reynolds said...

Thanks for the information! I will be in the area for a family reunion in a few months and I was looking for a couple of fun places to go in Ohio. At first I was dreading going, but I'm relieved to find out that there are actually fun things to do.