Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I never met a warbler ...

Sounds like a comic's joke? Are you waiting for the next line?

Bottom line is "That I did not like" ... but you will have to wait and read quite awhile to see this!!!

First, my "trigger":   In thinking about the upcoming Biggest Week (our favorite annual event - Hey! click the link! It happens in two weeks!), It occurred to me I have no recollection of ever seeing a warbler on the US west coast where I spent over 3 decades. Ever! I always carried binocs (big, clunky 7x50 binocs (better light in the SF fog) and my hands were steady enough to use them, but I never saw a warbler!!! So tonight I spent some time digging out the published field guide I used then (I think the only guide then!!!). At the same time I was hoping that I might have used the checklist in this 1961 field guide book at that time to record all my west coast birds (no such luck...).

It was fun anyway... and makes an interesting "ramble" - at least for me anyway...!

First I need to post a disclaimer: I did all the pics quickly to tell a story tonight, so they might be a bit fuzzy.

I took a Vertebrate Zoology course at UC Berkeley (UCB) back in the 1960's (I think I was seventeen).  I bought the required books, one of which was the Peterson guide shown here. Overall it was not an experience that would ever convince anyone to become a birder. My main memory of birding was that the TA graded on taking field notes. Never mind the name of the bird, just take notes! I did. My only remembered note from the required field notes was "a bird flew from a tree into a bush"! To this day I hate that memory! What bird??? Teach me! Don't grade me! I already knew more scientific names of critters than most people learn in a lifetime, but did not learn any new birds! To be fair, birds were only part of the class, and their IDs were not the focus. And, it did get me used to the idea of taking field notes - a habit I still follow.

As a budding (botany talk) or an unfledged (birder talk) taxonomist, this was the antithesis of what I wanted to learn! And, I am sure all birders' first questions are like mine was then  - "what IS it?"! How indeed (!) could I ever write any notes without knowing its name?

Without further elaboration, I might suggest things, like  "I observed a mammal eating something in my home tonight"; "I set my drink on the large wood thing"; etc.  I am sure everyone will understand what any communication would be like without names! (i.e., taxonomy ...).

Anyway it was interesting tonight to see my old book. Geez!!! Fourth edition! 1961! Darn near the start of "birding" as we know it! And, yes, this was when "bird watchers" were thought of as very strange people!!! Wonderfully amazing how the image of birders has changed over the decades!!!

It is dirty, tattered, sun-faded, and partly wine-drenched. And I had bought and pasted special tabs to denote each section. You can see that it must have been used, but mostly after the class was over!

OK, my checklist in the book will tell me life birds to add to my "life list"! No such luck!

I am not at all sure what the dots on my checklist mean - like "=" equals  "=", right? But, I will guess that all I was trying to do was pass the class, and orange dots were either mounts or pictures I had encountered in the lab. These I had to study! Blue dots - did I see the birds? Maybe.  Useless anyway!

Then I quickly ran thru the book to see what else I had done. Maybe I made notes by each species I had encountered as I started to do in my more recent Peterson guide in Michigan (before I became a "birder")? No such luck!!! About the only check I found was for a bird (Warbler! Fascinating...) everyone would love to see in the Midwest! Did I see it? Or did it fly "from a tree into a bush"?

The only "real answer" lies in my field notes. If I ever locate them again, I will be able to tell eBird what birds I saw when, and add to my relatively meager (in comparison to many birders) life list (188 species and counting) as well as my diminishing memories. In my field notes, I recorded all my adventures. The notes originally included primarily fishing exploits with detailed notes of fish caught, and what baits were used. (A few decades later, prestigious fishing magazines like InFisherman and Bassmaster recommended this practice to their readers!) As I progressed into marine biology - primarily phycology (esp. marine seaweeds) -  the notes detailed every species collected, and my field note numbers were also documentation as an accession list for the source of the original record of the collection.

Maybe my field notes went to the University of Washington (UW) when I gave them my personal seaweed herbarium (4th largest on Pacific Coast). That would be appropriate, Maybe I left them with the University of Southern California Allen Hancock Foundation Herbarium (formally known as HAHF) where I was the curator for over a decade. That would be appropriate. Maybe they were lost in the transitions between HAFH and the LA county Museum (LACM) , or perhaps subsequently when LACM collections were transferred to UCB. Or maybe, when I put my personal collection on loan to an up-and-coming phycology star Geoff Leister at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB). Or maybe, somewhere in my basement boxes?  UW has searched with no results. UCB is possibly too huge to take the time? Geoff Leister has disappeared. And, I seriously doubt they are in the basement - I keep all the "good stuff" (i.e., personal) upstairs. Where did they go???

Geez! How I want to see my notes again!!!
Oh, sorry, did I digress???

So ... back to subject! "I never met a warbler"! With possible exception of that lifer Hermit Warbler I just learned about  - (and doubt?). In my West Coast days, I know I loved (and recorded) wonderful shorebirds. I also recorded yard birds. But warblers? Never!!! Dinky things that fly too fast! Dinky things at the tops of trees!!! Things that my Peterson had pages for called "Confusing Fall Warblers". Confusing? That was enough! I did not need it. No matter the season! Forget warbler birds! I am going to the beach!!!

Anyway, in two weeks the Biggest Week in American Birding happens. (click the link!) For Judy and me, this is the highlight of our year! It is the time we travel to stay "local" away from home and enjoy out birding the most. And what do we see? Warblers!!!

Now I say: "I never met a warbler I did not like"!!!

During spring migration, they (the warblers) are in breeding colors.That are beautiful!!! You can easily find their pics in a bird guide. And at the Biggest Week, there are SO many experts - including professional birders - to help you not only identify them, but also to SEE them! They are right there! And the really great thing is that they are often at eye level!!! (Even though the Magee Marsh used to be called Crane Creek, it referred to the many wading birds you will also see, and not necessarily the contortions of the cervical vertebrate as you play "follow the bouncing bird"!).

So, I also post a few pics of references about warblers. I take along a couple of regular field guides to eastern birds as well because you will see so many other interesting birds!

Recently I put a pic of me holding a great warbler poster and holding one of the warbler books on Facebook. I am not sure if Charles Owens' great poster will be available for sale this year, but it was SO wonderful he made his amazing pics available to BSBO and the Biggest Week for a poster to generate income for their causes!!!

Here I am also holding a warbler field guide by Don and Lillian Stokes. It was cool that when I posted this on Facebook Lillian thanked me. Birders are so friendly!

Before I started "rambling" tonight, I also dug out a couple more books that I need to review and take along for the Biggest Week.

The Peterson series now has a special warbler guide. A really cool thing is that it has "warbler butts" - like what you get in your pics when looking upward!

And a new book totally "blows me away" with comprehension, but really the most fascinating new feature is that it includes the graphical depictions of songs showing pitch and cadence!!! Former bird guides talk about songs as "words", and yes, they might be helpful to some, but my mind has yet to make sense of it, For example, the first time I heard "Drink your tea" (described song of Eastern Towhee), it was a Robin doing three syllables! If I had thought it was "drink" (first note") "your" (down!) " tea" (up and kinda multi-syllabic warbled), I might have guessed better! Yeah, whole another story ...! Maybe this book will help? Too much to handle!!!

Every book is great in their own way (and I will not elaborate now), BUT I note that you really need nothing other than your interest!!! There are SO many experts (published authorities and otherwise) in the area that I guarantee all your questions will be answered. Just ask!!!

And if you do not already have books, there are several places in the area to get them. Also, if you need binocs, you can get them there as well at"Optics Alley" at BSBO.

Also, be sure to check out the online Visitor's Guide before you go. Lots of info!

Here it comes again with the bottom line: I never met a warbler I did not like!!!

... Hope y'all enjoyed my "ramble"!!!

BTW check out my prior BW blog  (and its embedded refs!) for pics and more details ...

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