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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Category Archives: Birdwatching
For the last few years I’ve been watching and photographing a pair of bald eagles that have been nesting near Calaveras Reservoir in the east bay hills. This year the eagles moved their nest and it’s location hasn’t been well known. Recently, though, I had a chance to go chat with one of the biologists who is monitoring environmental compliance of the Calaveras Dam upgrade project, and he was nice enough to take me out and show me the location of this year’s nest.
I have, of course, taken a few fairly poor pictures, but the nest is fairly hard to get a good shot of, and that morning we had some fun with heat shimmer to boot.
I’m thrilled that once again, this nest has two healthy chicks in it. This is the seventh year for this pair that I know of, and they only had a nest failure the first year. In the years since they’ve produced two chicks a year except for one year when they produced one (in general, an eagle chick has about a 50% chance of living the first year if it fledges). So this has been a successful and fruitful pair.
(here’s a blown up crop of the birds showing both chicks..)
All of my images of this nest are here. Hopefully, I’ll get out there again and try to get some better images.
Because the location of this new nest is at risk of disruption, we’re not disclosing the location of it. The GPS info in the images actually relates to the older tower nest and won’t take you to a viewing place for this one.
Behold the loud and chattery House Wren. I was sitting in my office trying to catch up on some stuff when I realized I was hearing a bird call out by the feeder that I didn’t recognize. This guy was sitting up on a wire, yodelling away. Wrens are not shy and demure birds that skulk in the underbrush (well, sometimes they skulk in the underbrush, but rarely quietly). This one sat up there chattering long enough for me to grab the binocs out of the office, curse that he was backlit and sitting right in the sun, go get the camera and grab a bunch of shots.
He is yard bird #51 here at chateau chuqui.
Apologies for the semi-abandoned look to the blog. I’d planned on being back on a blogging schedule by now, but a couple of things have been going on that have sucked up free time. Memo to self: when you open up the hood on something and look inside, try to resist uttering the phrase “as long as I’m doing these other things, it shouldn’t take long to fix this other stuff that I’ve wanted to do….”
Ooops. And right now, I’m crunching to be ready since I’m headed to Morro Bay for a couple of days with the camera as I head out to Piedras Blancas in search of interesting Elephant Seal photos.
In the meantime, please amuse yourself with last weekend’s outing. Laurie and I finally got out to Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, north of Sacramento. It was a 400 mile day trip, long, but interesting and I’m glad I finally got out to that preserve — it’s gorgeous. The primary subject for photos that day were Greater White-Fronted Geese, who put on a rather nice show.
You can see more images from that trip by visiting this flickr slideshow.
The reason for the Piedras Blancas trip is that it’s a good time of year for action as the bulls are looking for females and are in their “really grumpy” mood. This weekend may be interesting because there’s a high tide that’s going to compress the animals onto a smaller part of the beach, which would encourage grumpiness. And hilarity may ensue. or at least a lot of smelly, huge beasts making lots of noise and fury.
And the other attraction? They’re uglier than I am….
You can see images from my previous visits to Piedras Blancas here.
Back at work after two weeks off, and getting back into the swim of things. It was nice to completely unplug for a bit and recharge the batteries. I definitely needed it…
One thing I did was what I like to call a “long day” out birding and doing bird photography; up early (4:30AM) so I can get out so San Luis National Wildlife Refuge around sunrise, and I spend part of the day there, and the rest of the day at Merced NWR, one of my favorite places. I seem to do this once or twice a year during the winter birding season, and it’s not unusual for the day to end back home around 8 or 9PM. Definitely long.
This year, the alarm didn’t go off and I got a couple of hours extra sleep; I got hit by the IOS notification bug. On the other hand, I still got to San Luis NWR only 90 minutes behind schedule — to clear 35 degree weather, sleeping birds (do you blame them?) and generally slow birding. A number of the still ponds were skinned over in ice, and frankly, the only thing I like LESS than central valley tule fog at dawn is black ice, and given the slow start to the morning, I was a lot more productive sleeping and being a bit more rested. So no complaint.
While at Merced I ran into a hawk I wasn’t sure how to identify. In those cases I’ll grab photos, and rather than ID in the field, I’ll come home where I can spend more time thinking it through. That process, and then getting the ID corrected by the birding communities, turned out to be an interesting teaching exercise about how you can run through all the proper steps of ID — and still get it a bit sideways.
Me, get an ID wrong? never. never ever. I’m perfect.
No, really, I’m a lot more of an enthusiastic birder than a great one. And I’m cool with that. The amount of time and energy to do more than slowly get better is just time and energy I don’t have these days. But it sure is fun to try (birding is so damn analog. that’s what makes it a challenge — and fun). And if you aren’t pushing your limits and making mistakes, how are you growing yourself? So I don’t worry about getting it wrong. I worry instead about not putting the energy into doing the right things to try to get it right. If I do — and still miss — that’s how you learn.
When I saw the bird initially, my reaction was “coopers hawk. No, wait…” — it wasn’t a cooper’s, it wasn’t a sharpie, but I wasn’t sure what it was. In that case, if possible, I’ll grab photos and defer a final decision until I get home and can study it more carefully. (if I can’t get photos, I’ll stop in the field and try to decide on an ID via my e-guides and then see if I’m comfortable with it when I get home; it not, it stays in “wish it was a…” category).
So when I got home and fired up the photos, “like a cooper’s…” was still in my head, and that’s a key here. Firing up the iBird guide, my first reference for what it might be was to bring up their cooper’s entry and look at their similar birds listings. They list six: Northern harrier, Broad-winged hawk, Northern Goshawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin, and American Kestrel.
I can throw out harrier, Merlin and Kestrel. I’ve already decided it’s not a Sharpie. colors are wrong for Goshawk (and I know that’d be a major rarity), so I pull up broad-winged. Looking at the images within iBird, and focusing mostly on the head of the bird (since that’s what keyed me onto “not a cooper’s” in the first place) I think it’s a maybe.
And that’s where I went sideways — looking at the images today and the whole bird (instead of focussing too closely on the aspect of the bird that was ‘different’ it’s clear at a glance the chest pattern and the wing primary feathering don’t match. But at the time, I didn’t do that). I still wasn’t sure about the tail, the bird in question had a grey on white banding.
There had been a previous report of this bird at Merced and I had in fact tagged that message since I was planning to head out there, but then I forgot all about it until after I’d submitted my ebird report (so I don’t think it influenced my ID attempt). some of the email I got last night indicated the previous report didn’t get photos and there was some discussion about it being a red-shouldered. If nothing else, I’m glad I was able to (I presume) refind that bird and clear up this question…
So I went off to flickr, searched on broad-winged and checked out images. I ultimately came on some images that I felt confirmed what I was seeing, and that’s when I made the call.
Right now, a bunch of birders are looking at the image above and yelling “you idiot! that’s a….” to their computer screens. And they’re right.
So now today, where someone has said “hey! think red-shouldered!” I’m looking at the image and going “well, duh!” and I in fact saw another red-shouldered at Merced that day, an immature. Most of my ID experience with that species is immature, and for some reason, at the time the bird triggered a thought towards Cooper’s, not red-shouldered. But as soon as someone suggested it, suddenly the bird kicked into view, and it’s obvious what it is.
Whenever I get an ID wrong (not that I ever do, of course) and then get the correct ID, I like to go back to what I did to see how I came to the decision, where I went wrong (so I can be more accurate later) and whether the mistake was preventable (and how). I thought I’d go through it because I think there are some interesting details here, especially since I’m guessing whoever made the other report of this bird travelled down a similar path.
The tool I used didn’t nudge me back down the path towards red-shouldered. that’s not the tool’s fault, but my over-reliance on its advice. I should have taken one step further back and asked myself what hawks should I be considering here, not just what hawks iBird was suggesting. That’s my bad (but I can see why I did it. won’t do that again). And yeah, I can see how if you walk down the iBird path with the mindset of “which of the birds similar to Cooper’s is this?” How you end up at Broad-wing. All very logical. Just wrong.
But I don’t feel too bad being wrong here, all things considered. And there are some good lessons to learn to help me (and hopefully, others reading this) from this mistake later. And ultimately, it all got sorted out which is what’s really important, and I’m trying to make sure that final info gets out to everyone so we’re all back in sync. I’d hate for someone to go chasing this bird because the corrected info didn’t get passed on.
There are a couple of learning points here:
First, don’t be overly reliant on your tools. I let iBird steer me down a path that was a little too convenient. Tha’s not iBird’s fault. Should red-shouldered be one of their similar birds? Well, where do you draw these lines? Put too many birds on the list, the list stops being useful. Use the list blindly as a definitive resource? that’s the problem.
Second, when ebird flagged the rough-winged ID as not just rare, but really, really, almost-unprecented rare, that should have been the clue for me to take a step back and ask myself what birds I should have expected there that I didn’t consider. If I’d gone in and taken a look at all of the local common hawks — if I’d looked up red-shouldered in the guide, the chest feathering would have likely triggered me onto the species. Since I had in fact seen a different red-shouldered immature on site as well, I really should have stopped to think about what other hawks it could have been. But I didn’t.
Third, I got too focused on the parts of the bird (head and tail) that weren’t Cooper’s hawk, and stopped looking at the entire bird. This is not uncommon with ID attempts where a birder gets too attached to one field mark and ignores others that would define the ID properly. Which is what I did. The head was wrong for Cooper’s so find a head that matches. then look on flickr and find a matching tail. Done. Except one look back at the chest feathering, you see it’s wrong for Broad-Wing. Not even close. But I stopped looking at it. Bird ID is wonderfully difficult, and when I watch some of the senior birders make it look easy, I just sit back in fascination at how they do it. And just when you think you understand bird ID, toss in females (especially female ducks), shorebirds, juveniles, eclipse plumage, feather wear and fading…. For fun, go to the beach and start sorting out all of the 2nd cycle immature gulls… Me, I’ll go have another drink and pretend I tried.
Fourth, every birder — every damn one of us — wants to find that really exquisite rarity. The more novice a birder you are, the more likely you are to assume what you’re seeing is a rarity. One key aspect of maturing as a birder is getting your head away from that. But when something wanders in that triggers that “SCORE!” in the back of your head, it can be tough…
That is, by the way, an absolutely gorgeous red-shouldered hawk. Stunning bird.
but it’s not a broad-winged hawk. But it comes with a couple of other consolation prizes. One is that by finding it, making this mistake and reporting it and getting corrected, I saved some other birders the time they were planning to go try to find that OTHER report of a broad-winged hawk. We’re all pretty sure that other birder went down a similar logical path to this mistake — only I had pictures that the experts could look at.
And I was at Merced the day after the CBC, and found a couple of species that weren’t found during the CBC. Those become what’s known as count-week birds, which supplement the report and help us understand what’s going on with the birds in that region. One of the, a wintering Wilson’s Warbler, just made my day. There are always a few that winter here in Northern california, but finding one is a nice catch, and the birds are cute as a button. As soon as I catch up on my image processing, I’ll post some cute pictures of it…
I finally took some time out to visit the eagle’s nest out on Calaveras Reservoir and got some decent images. The chicks are healthy and you can see that the primaries are fully, or almost fully, grown in, and they’re showing signs of exercising the wings. They’ll do that to strengthen the wings, and then start doing “test flights” — hovering just above the nest a bit — as they get ready to fledge and leave the nest for real.
As I got there, they were just finishing lunch. Whatever it was had fur on it, so it was another ground squirrel, or perhaps a rabbit. This is a nesting pair that’s adapted from the typical Bald Eagle fish diet to grouns mammals, because this area has a few bazillion of them running around. When I was out on Marsh road a few days earlier, I saw a coyote trotting through with a fresh rabbit kill — my thought being she was taking it back to her young, but she was too far away and too much of a hurry to do any investigation.
Everything looks good for this nest to produce another two youngsters to join the population….
The images here aren’t necessarily the best, but while this nest is very accessible, taking great shots is a huge challenge. I realize I’ve never posted a picture of the nest as it’s visible from the roadway, so here’s one:
That image was shot at about 50mm, and gives you some sense of how far away the nest is. This is one reason why I’m not too paranoid about being open about the location; idiots are not going to easily annoy these eagles. The shots above are shot with a 300MM/F4, plus a 1.4x teleconverter, and then cropped heavily. In the morning, the birds are backlit, since I’m facing almost due east here. By the time the sun is lighting them, the overcast marine layer is gone, and the heat shimmer has arrived. In the afternoon, there are a set of hills behind me to the west, so the area goes into shadow early, and you can start losing your light by about 3:3oPM or so.
Not complaining; if it was easy, we wouldn’t bother, right? But there are days when all I really want is an 800mm lens and cool overcast skies.. If you’re interested in seeing my shots of this nest over time, check them out over on my eagle’s page of my photo gallery.
It’s early March, and that means spring is springing in the bird world. The red-tails were building nests when I was down in Panoche valley, the Mockingbirds have arrived here in the neighborhood as they do every spring, the oak titmice are singing their lungs out, and it looks like the Bald Eagle pair near Calaveras Reservoir is nesting again.
Okay, technically, they are way above Calaveras reservoir, in the top of a high tension power tower. I’ve been watching this pair when I can since 2008; I believe their first year nesting here was 2007. In 2008, the nesting failed as far as we can tell. In 2009, they fledged one chick, in 2010, they fledged 2. In 2011, they abandoned this nest and built a new one down in the treeline nearby; my life at HP was strange enough that I basically had no time to watch them, so I have no idea if they successfully fledged. and here in 2012, they’re back in their original nest and starting again.
Typically they’ll work on the nest in late January and early February. Egg laying seems to happen in late February or early March. There was a report by one birder that they were working on the nest earlier in the week; when I checked in on Friday, as you can see, she (assuming it’s the female, she spends ~80% of the time on the eggs, her mate covers the other 20% but does most of the hunting) is in it. In the 40 minutes or so I watched, she never left the nest. This isn’t absolute proof they’ve laid — I was talking to an expert today and eagles can have false incubations — but we believe, especially given their track record, that she’s laid and is sitting.
Incubation is about 35 days. If all goes well, at the end of March or (more likely) early April, they’ll hatch. Bald eagles can lay one to three eggs; they rarely fledge three chicks, typically, the weakest chick is ejected by the others at some point. If food is somewhat scarce, the strongest chick will prevail. The third egg is essentially an insurance policy in case something happens to one.
The parents will care for them; early on, dad is the primary hunter, as they mature, mom will be able to spend more time away from the nest and do more hunting. Bald eagles are typical fish hunters, but this pair is a pair that has adapted to the local area and hunt primarily ground squirrels, which number in the zillions in this area (the Benito County eagle pair does the same).
By mid-May, the chicks will be testing their wings. By early June, they’ll fledge and leave the nest, and the cycle will be done for another year. This pair is bonded, they will likely be together and nesting unless one of them dies. They’ll continue to breed throughout their lives, as long as 30 years if all goes well.
Here’s some video I shot of them in 2010 with the chicks close to ready to leave the nest.
My hope this year is to monitor them every couple of weeks until the chicks hatch and then every week or ten days or so through fledging. And get some much better video when I can. And probably borrow a bigger lens, since they’re far enough away that the 420mm setup I use just isn’t enough… The good news is the nest is nicely visible from the roadway for those that want to look, but visitors can’t really annoy or interact with the birds. the bad news is that you need good binoculars or preferably a scope to get good looks, and even my birding photo gear has trouble getting quality images at this distance against the wind and a common bit of heat shimmer that will show up when things warm up…
Doesn’t keep me from working at it, though…
You can see some of my photography of these birds from earlier years here.
I have acquired a strong fascination with the cranes and geese that visit California’s central valley in the winter. There are a number of places you can go to take them in, but one of my favorites is Merced National Wildlife Refuge, which is roughly halfway between Santa Nella and Merced. It’s about two and a half hours of driving from home, so it’s not a trivial drive, but it’s very much something I can do as a day trip.
The cranes and geese start arriving around the end of October, and start leaving in February or March. I’ve gotten into the habit of trying to get out into the central valley three or four times a winter to visit and photograph the birds and the area; more if I can. Some of those trips Laurie and I do together and make it an outing, but sometimes, it works best for me to go solo and just focus on trying to get pack as much into the trip with as much intensity and focus as I can.
There is just no way to be enthusiastic when the alarm goes off at 4AM. The best I can muster is not turning it off and rolling over; a quick hot shower and I’m off after clothes stashed in the other room, because my one goal right now is letting Laurie get back to sleep. Some mornings, you walk out the front door and look up into the dark sky and realize you’re screwed, and you might as well go back to bed. It’s 4:30, it’s 40 degrees, and it’s clear skies.
South to Gilroy, I find the open Starbucks (thank you, bless you). Over the hills, and down into Santa Nella and Los Banos. And into the fog. Now, I’m worried; I might arrive and be fogged out. The fog is playing games with me, though, as Tule fog can; sometimes it goes away. sometimes it’s impenetrable and you’re driving by braille. Outside of Los Banos, it lifts, but only about 20′, so it’s as if I’m driving in this weird grey tunnel. It’s a weird feeling, with the air completely clear around you, but when you look up, you can see nothing.
I make it to the refuge at 7:15, beating sunrise by about ten minutes. The fog is there, but not heavy. When the sun hits, it’ll build a bit, then it should burn off before too much time passes. I pull into the refuge to set up the cameras and get ready for the show. I can hear the geese stirring in the distance. My car thermometer reads 35 degrees. I reach for my coat, and realize I left it at home. All I have is my in-car denim jacket that lives there for these kinds of situations. It’ll help, but it’s really not heavy enough.
I’m the second car into the refuge. One has already headed up the auto tour a bit. I’m in the entrance area, unpacking gear and setting up the car the way I like it for these trips. A lone bird flies through. It turns out to be one of the few glimpses of an Ibis I’ll see today.
Those who have a fantasy that the life of a nature photographer is a glamorous one, set the alarm for 4AM, drag your butt out of bed, and go sit on a bench in the local park for a few hours and wait for something to happen. Maybe something will, maybe it won’t. That, in a nutshell, is nature photography. As you get better at picking locations, the chances something interesting will happen goes up, but it’s never guaranteed. Hours of prep, minutes of opportunity. Maybe.
Some people like to visit a lot of places. Get to know a few places well, rather than see lots of places superficially. You can go overboard on that, become too insular, too “cocooned”, but for me the attraction is to understand a place, not just see it. To watch as it changes over time and through the seasons.
This trip to Merced is my “new job vacation”; instead of taking time off and going somewhere, I took the accrued vacation and put that money into gear. It’s also my first “serious” trip to start learning how the gear should be used in the field. I’m consciously experimenting more with the wide angle, forcing myself to use it and not get so heavily into the rhythm of shooting at 400mm and seeing everything in that mono-vision.
I am going to have fun today. I don’t intend to let the cold stop me. Or the fog. Or even doofuses. Those are all things to work with, and around, they can only be excuses if you let them. Early on, the fog makes bird photography tough, putting everything into soft focus. I spend more time thinking about how to bring the refuge to those that can’t be there.
Opportunities do exist, of course.
A loggerhead shrike sits up for a portrait session. This has been one of my nemesis birds; I have lots of so-so images of them. I don’t have many I’m proud of.
Now I do.
I spend the afternoon with the geese, alternately trying to figure out how to show what it’s like sitting out in a marsh with 10,000+ birds, and trying to get some good flight and landing shots.
How do you describe 10,000 birds visually in an image?
That seems a good start. It’d be a better image if it was a panorama, but I didn’t want to get out of the car and risk spooking them to set up for a formal pano, and the handheld one wasn’t very good. Some days they work, some days they don’t.
Geese, everywhere. Never quiet, and there’s always motion.
Every time I visit a refuge, I want to do video, I want to do audio. I want to try timelapses. I now have most of the gear I need for these, but haven’t had time to practice the setups. Next visit, hopefully.
Then the geese explode; they’ve been spooked. The entire flock hits the air at the same time. The noise is intense, almost as intense as the visual chaos. Birds are flying everywhere. I don’t know how they avoid collisions, but they do.
And then it’s quiet, and empty. The geese have gone in to settle for the night. I can feel the first tendrils of fog seeping back into my It’s time for food, something hot, and the drive over the hill home. Until next time.
The one thing that marred the visit to Merced was that I ran into a couple of doofuses. Here’s a quick guide on how not to be a doofus with a camera (or binoculars).
The “Area Beyond This Sign Closed” sign evidently didn’t apply to this couple, who entered the refuge shortly after I did and headed back into tour area ahead of me. The car is significantly beyond the “do not enter” sign, and they are significantly beyond that. What you don’t see or hear here were the three or four coyotes that were actively making a lot of noise somewhere off to the left of this scene but between me and them. Sorry, but “it’s okay if the ranger doesn’t catch us” doesn’t sit well with me. I guess it’s also okay if the coyotes decide not to catch them, too.
These two seemed to be fairly knowledgable birders and at first glance their gear seemed to be of the “okay, they’re serious about this” quality. Not “take out a mortgage” glass, but “we’ve upgraded once or twice” glass. One would hope that serious birders would know to stick to the rules and not do things that impact the birds. Unfortunately, for some birders, “getting the bird” is most important, even to the detriment of the bird.
In fact, this is a minor transgression. They’re on a maintenance road. It’s just annoying to me when I see someone who’s first act when they arrive at a place like this is to put themselves above the rules. Rules which are there to protect them and to protect the birds they were interested in enough to come and visit. I just don’t have a lot of patience with the “it’s okay if I don’t get caught” mentality. Of course, you never know who might know the rangers and email them a picture of them, their car, and their license plate…
But the big doofus was in the afternoon. I’ve made my fourth trip through the refuge, this one to sit with the geese until the light fails or they leave. The geese are being moderately cooperative, with about 10,000 sitting in a large group with the close edge about 50 yards off the road, just past the back observation area. I’ve found a parking spot where I have good views, good light, good angles, I’m off the road, and I’m in the car shooting, watching and hanging out.
And along comes a photographer, walking up the access road, camera, tripod. Pro-caliber Nikon body, pro-caliber nikon lens. expensive tripod. He walks up, and proceeds to set up and start shooting. Right directly in front of me, directly in my line of sight.
Okay, say freaking WHAT? It’s not like my car’s invisible. I decided to defer having a cow and give him some time to get some shots in. Instead, I grabbed my long lens and started taking flight shots around him, since he only moderately impacted that. When he heard my camera going off, he looked, saw the lens, and asked me if he was in my way. And I noted that yes, at some point he was going to be impacting my shots. So he then said “well, tell me when I am” and turned around and went back to shooting. After about five minutes of that, he graciously decided that was good enough and moved to a new location off my rear fender that was out of my line of sight.
This is wrong on any number of levels. First of all, you don’t just plop yourself down in front of someone and start shooting as if they aren’t there. He compounded this — his actions and the way he said things made it clear to me that until he realized I was also a photographer that this was okay. It was only once he realized I had a camera that he worried about impacting my sight lines. It doesn’t matter if I have a camera or if I’m just there for, say, a gorgeous sunset with the geese, you don’t have the right to decide to just set up camp in front of me. I was mildly annoyed when he did it. I was majorly annoyed when I realized he thought it was okay until he realized I was another photographer, because that implies that he does this to others as well, because, evidently, his camera gives him right of priority view or something. And that he did it without acknowledging my presence until I hauled out a lens about as big as his.
I didn’t make a deal with it with him directly, because nothing good ever happens when you do, but man, this is annoying, because it’s this kind of behavior that gives all photographers a bad rep. When someone with a lens wades in and just plays this kind of game, it makes us all look bad to non photographers. So, kids, when you have a lens out, remember that your actions and how you act leaves an impression on those around you, and that impression is not just about you (and what a doofus you are), but on photographers in general. If you don’t care what people think about you (and I clearly think this man is a doofus) worry about what people think about all of us other photographers. Because it’s actions like this that get all photographer’s access restricted, when enough doofuses do things that annoy non-photographers enough to start making rules.
But it gets better. Or worse, I guess.
The other thing my friend didn’t realize was that he was scaring off the geese. He was standing out in the open moving around a lot, shifting his camera around. Every time he did, a few geese closest to him took off and flew off or flew deeper into the pack. I figured it was only a matter of time before he spooked a goose that spooked the flock and caused them all to leave.
Okay, a quick digression. Refuges allow access to restricted parts of the refuge. Many parts are out of bounds so that the birds can go places where they don’t have to deal with the stress of interacting with humans. that’s why humans shouldn’t be going into out of bounds places. At refuges like Merced, access is via a gravel road set up as an auto tour. One of the rules they encourage you to follow is to stay in the car, and use it as a blind. There’s a reason for that: the shape of a human scares the wildlife, and they move away from you, or they leave. If you’re carrying a big camera with a long lens, it looks an awful lot to geese like that other long, pointy thing that got pointed at uncle bob before he fell out of the sky and was never seen again. When you’re that close, the geese are going to notice you and react to you, especially if you’re moving around a lot.
What ultimately happened, though, was that another photographer arrived, parked back up the road a bit, and walked out from behind the screening trees to where the rest of us were (three or four cars, the photographer wandering around. fairly big crowd, actually). He was wearing a red sweatshirt, and got two steps out from behind the screening brush. The flock jumped, and suddenly we had 10-12,000 geese in the air in total chaos. Within a minute, they’d organized and flown off, and we were all sitting there staring at an empty pond.
That is why the rangers tell you to stay in the car, and use it as a blind. Because these folks didn’t, the rest of us lost access to the birds, too. Show over. So much for trying to get a picture of the flock in golden hour light.
If the first photographer had been more aware of how is movements were putting the geese on alert, the second photographer appearing might not have spooked them. Or maybe he would have. Or maybe nothing would have happened (but in the previous times i’ve been in this situation, there’s a fairly decent change they’ll find a reason to get spooked, whether it’s person, noise, or raptor. But one can hope). The point is, I guess, is that if people had been following the recommended rules, the chances we’d have had a longer time watching the birds would have gone up significantly. By being that close to the flock and unaware of what their actions were doing to the birds, they messed it up for all of us.
If you’re going to shoot wildlife, you should strive to understand their behaviors and know how to minimize your impact on them. Failing that, at least know what the rules of the refuge are and follow them, because they’re designed to help you do that. It’s sad and frustrating when I see people who seem oblivious to the stress they’re putting on the animals; this isn’t Disneyland, and these aren’t audio-anamatronic robots.
I’m still wondering what that morning couple’s plan was if those coyotes decided to come out and say hi. They were, after all, only 100-150 yards out from their position. Fortunately, a coyote is generally uninterested in taking on a person, but there were at least three in a group together. That’s not a situation I particularly want to be in, out in the open with a coyote between me and my car where I might be safe. What I did was watch from the “do not pass this point” sign for a couple of minutes, just to make sure there was no sign of the coyotes moving, then I wished them luck on whatever they were doing and moved on. I wonder if they even realized the coyotes were there? (they were sure noisy enough…)
And my friend the doofus? I guess I see that kind of behavior often enough now that it’s merely annoying. If he hadn’t moved, I’d have eventually escalated the situation, but I figured if I gave it time, it’d solve itself without creating a fight, and it did. Once they scared off the flock, there was no reason to stay, so I fired up the car and headed back to the front of the refuge, because if there’s no active flock involved, that’s a better place to photograph the evening fly-in (except when it’s not), where I ran into a nice couple who was there for the first time, and I spent some time trying to help them with what to expect. It was, unfortunately, a fairly weak fly-in, with the cranes mostly missing until very late when they all flew in at once, and the geese — well, they’d already flown off to the evening roost for some reason, so activity was low.
But still, even a lousy sunset on the refuge is better than most things…. And I’ll give this one a C+.
One of the birds that has been hanging around Coyote Valley this winter is the tri-colored blackbird, a species that is seen almost exclusively in California, and has been in decline in recent years, so it’s one that birders and Audubon is tracking and working to help conserve.
It’s nice that a flock of a couple hundred decided to stick with the blackbirds in the south county because otherwise, adding them to the year list means a trip into the central valley and a bit of luck. I ran into them where you normally run into blackbirds — around the cows.
At first approximation, the way you tell the tricolor from the red-winged blackbird in the field is the epaulet. In the adult male, the red-winged shows, well, red here in California (in other regions, it’s a red/yellow combo, but in California, the yellow is mostly hidden when the bird isn’t flying or displaying). The tricolor shows a white stripe where the red is mostly or completely hidden.
As I was going through my photos, however, I ran into these birds. One is white. One is — well, more of a cream color. Which led me down the path of taking much closer looks at the birds in terms of the ID.
If I’ve got the ID’s right (always an open question around my life), the one on the right is a tricolor. It also has the black and much thicker bill, a slimmer body shape. The bird in the middle is the red-winged. I’m thinking this is a younger bird starting to move into adult plumage, which is why the epaulet is a creamy yellowish rather than bright screaming yellow honker yellow and red; I think the red is hidden here, and the yellow in the epaulet is in process of arriving. But if you look you can see a much thinner bill, the feathering in general has a different shine, and the bird looks chunkier to me.
A nice reminder not to over-rely on any single field mark, because female and juvenile birds will mess you up badly if you do…
(the bird on the left? it’s a brown-headed cowbird. The blackbird flock, which was extended all over the pastures when I was there, is a few thousand birds, including these two species, plus Brewer’s, plus a good number of cowbirds, and of course, our dear friends the European Starling. Better birders than I estimated the tricolor numbers at a couple hundred or so…).
Like much of life in 2011, what I thought I’d accomplish with my birding in 2011 and what I actually did were some significantly different. I have no complaints, though; birding is one of those things I do to get away from all of the other stuff, so any time birding is a good time, even if I kinda forget to bird once I get there. Or to put it another way,
Sometimes birds are the reason. Sometimes, they are the excuse
My final year list for 2011 was 183 species; that’s significantly better than i expected it to be, since I was able to add 15 species in Q4, and eight in december. It’s short of what I did the previous two years where I made it to about 200 species, but looking at my ebird lists, there’s about a two and a half month slice of time where I effectively didn’t bird at all, and that included much of spring migration. Such is life.
I added six species to my life list: Palm Warbler, Evening Grosbeak, Phainopepla, Baird’s Sandpiper, Marbled Murrelet and Yellow-Billed Loon. That’s not a bad set of additions. I successfully missed boobies two years in a a row — last year there was a blue-footed booby at Dana Point harbor, which I chased on a trip and looked for it without success (it turns out it was two days after it was last seen); this year, the Dana Point Booby was a masked booby, so as we left SoCal after the christmas visit, we gave it a try, but it was evidently out fishing; none of the four groups looking for it had seen it, but it’s been seen since, so it just saw me coming and hid.. Maybe next year..
For non-birders, I should note that a birding list is effectively logarithmic. The first ten birds are trivially easy, and it’s fairly common for birders here in the Bay area to start a year list and hit 80-100 species on January 1. But each ten birds are that much harder, because there’s only so much diversity; 250 species is a pretty good year for most birders, 300 is many times impossible without travel, and 400 is amazing. John Vanderpoel has been doing a “big year”, effectively birding full time, everywhere in the US for an entire year — and he has 742 species. Read his blog if you want to see what effort is required for something like that (not me! not any time remotely soon).
All I can say about birding in 2012 is that about the time this gets posted to my blog, if things go well, I’ll be out chasing birds to start out my list for 2012 (and to see how well my new Vortex 8x42s work). Beyond that? We’ll see. 200 species seems to be a nice goal, so we’ll try it again. If things go well and I hit it, we’ll reset the bar higher.
A few years ago I did a year where I tried to build a photographic year list, seeing how many species I could get a usable photo of. I’m thinking that is worth trying again, to give me something to reach for that ties both the birds and the cameras together. So perhaps we’ll see that appear on the web site soon..
But mostly, birding for me is a relaxation, and I think it’s important that when you’re off relaxing, you, well, relax. Don’t throw too many goals and requirements, don’t stress about whether you’re doing it right (or at all). Take the things you like doing and turn it into another job? No thanks. So remember to keep some things in your life loose, so you don’t lose the joy of doing them…
So Laurie and I did a little birding today just to get the lists started, including a bit o’ feederwatch and then laurie and I headed down to coyote valley and visited east and west Laguna and Richmond.
Highlights were seeing about half of santa clara valley audubon hanging out on Laguna working on their year lists. Even more fun was stepping out of the car, saying “with any luck, we’ll see the golden eagle that’s been hanging out here”, looking up, and seeing an immature golden eagle (checking the guide, it was a juvenile) about 70′ straight up. it soared with three red tails for a while, the they all went high and south out of view. (my comment: “I should have suggested California Condor. that was too easy”).
The blackbird flock was intermixed brewers with a few red-winged and some of the continuing tri-colored. I was able to catch 6 of the tri-color individuals, mostly around the cow corral in the middle of west Laguna. Found the Ferruginous Hawk (Light morph) on Richmond, flying. it got a bit annoyed at a turkey vulture that wandered into the area (the turkey vulture’s response seemed mostly to be something like “dude! chill!” and it moved on). Three western bluebirds (2 male and a female) were on Richmond; I’ve seen them there before. A wild turkey called every so often from the distance well N of W Laguna, but never showed. A few magpies were seen at the end of W Laguna, with more heard. The single long-billed curlew was continuing, and I found a couple of killdeer near the house on W Laguna, but no burrowing owl (I’ve decided I’ve pissed off the burrowing owl union, and they’re on orders to hide when they see me coming).
Driving in, there was a flotilla of white pelicans flying up 101 headed N, right at Bailey.
Eurasian collared doves easy to find, both at the ranch house on W. Laguna and at the hay store on Richmond.
(Santa was nice to me, and I got a set of Vortex 8x42s, which compared to my old 8×30′s, my initial response is “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?” and the new Nat Geo and Stokes field guides, both of which after some casual rummaging through seem to be really good in very different ways. the Nat Geo is drawing based, and the Stokes is photo based, and they complement each other well. Neither is one I’ll actually haul into the field any more (I use iPhone-based guides now, plus keep the Sibley west in the car) but both look to be helpful in trying to get my head around plumage subtleties…
Happy New year! 39 down, lots to go…
—– Home, Santa Clara, US-CA Jan 1, 2012 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Protocol: Stationary Comments: feeder/yardwatch 12 species
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 1 Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 1 Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) X Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) X Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) 1 Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) 1 American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) X Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens) 3 Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus) 1 House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) X Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) X House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) X
This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org) Coyote Valley, Santa Clara, US-CA Jan 1, 2012 1:30 PM – 3:00 PM Protocol: Traveling 5.0 mile(s) Comments: laguna east and west, richmond. 33 species
Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) 1 heard only, N of laguna west. American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) 7 flying up 101N @ bailey in formation. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1 Great Egret (Ardea alba) 8 Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) 1 Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 6 White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) 1 Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) 1 Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 4 Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) 1 Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) 1 2nd year seen in flight, soared off S. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) 5 Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) 2 Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) 1 Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) X Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) 6 Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) X Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) 3 Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya) 2 Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) 2 Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli) 4 American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) X Common Raven (Corvus corax) 3 Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) 3 on richmond European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) X Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) X White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) X Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) X Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) 7 Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) 3 Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) X Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) X House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) X
This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)
Birding is, as much as anything, a hobby of details. As you progress in the hobby, you need to spend time learning the fine details of various birds. Most birders start out with a field guide, one that they carry with them as they bird. Rarely does it stop there, it seems.
When I’m birding, I’ve mostly switched to electronic field guides (which are a posting for a different time), but I still carry one of the standards, the Sibley Western Field Guide. At home, I have a copy of the larger National Sibley. I also have a copy of the National Geographic Field Guild. They are good examples of the two schools of guides, with Sibley being painting-based and the National Geographic being photo-based.
It may seem like a photo-based guide would be the best, but I’ve found in practice the Sibley, based on drawings, works better for me. The big philosophical difference is that National Geographic images all show a specific bird at a specific time of year, while the Sibley images are idealized images of the species, with a focus on the marks you use in the field to help you understand which identifiers are most important. Under most circumstances, the drawings help you more than photos, but there are times when only photos answer a question. The quality of a photo-based guide depends a lot on both the quality of the images, but also how well the editors choose representative images of a species.
Sometimes, however, what you need is lots of images. Nothing defines the complexity of birding more than gulls, which a few birders absolutely love for the challenges, and many birders grumble about at the same level as mopping the kitchen floor. It’s an occasionally dirty job, but you gotta do it, at least once in a while. But if you do, you’ll quickly find most general guides can’t cover the complexity. Gulls change their plumage as they mature in major ways over the first few years, and especially with younger birds, the differences between species can be subtle and individual birds vary widely from the standard. In my view, the birders who can pick a Slaty-Backed third cycle gull out of a flock of 5,000 mixed Herring and Western gulls gets nothing but respect from me (and I know damn well even if I had the patience to sort out that flock, I’d still never see that bird).
But when you start playing with gull ID (or shorebirds, another class of birds that can make you crazy), you need specialized guides with a lot more detail.And that’s why I own Gulls of the Americas and The Shorebird Guide, because somedays, you need to be able to sit down with your images and be able to make heads or tails of a 3rd Cycle Glaucous-Winged or understand the difference between a Least and a Semi-Palmated Sandpiper.
So those four books are my go-to library where I research about 95% of my birding questions, supplmented by my electronic guides I carry in the field, and resources like Flickr or Cornell’s All About Birds.
But most birders build a library of books over time, because when the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can still sit down and read up on the hobby.
If you’re just growing past the “carry around binoculars” stage and don’t really know what that means, the Natgeo Birding Essentials guide is a good starting point. Owls has been a recent fancy of mine, and so I’ve gotten a couple of guides to stary studying them. I particularly like the Field Guild to Owls of California and how it describes and discusses the birds.
Finally, you can’t find birds if you don’t know where to look, so every birder ends up grabbing a stack of these regional guides. My favorites here in the bay area are Birds of San Francisco and the Bay, John Kemper’s Birding Northern California, and for those of us here in Santa Clara County, Birding at the Bottom of the Bay, which is available through Santa Clara Valley Audubon. The more general guides are good ones to get you started and help you explore the highlights around a region, but the more you want to explore, the more you’ll find yourself drawn towards the specialty guides done by the local Audubon chapters. Many of these are now going online, and a great example of what’s possible is done by Sequoia Audubon in their San mateo County birding guide — this really is the future of birding guides, I think.
So I got out for a couple of hours of birding on Sunday, my first of the year. I ended up down in Coyote Valley again, where there’s been a couple of Palm Warblers hanging out. I tried for them once before in December and while I think I saw them, I didn’t get a good enough look for me to feel I could say “yes, I definitely can say they were Palm Warblers” and put them on my life list.
This trip was different. I showed up at the location they’re hanging out in, ran into another birder watching them, he pointed out where they were, and about 20 seconds later, one of them popped out and proceeded to put on a show for about 15 minutes, wandering around in bright, full sunlight about 25 feet away. It was almost anti-climactic. I’ve got some nice pictures, but I haven’t processed them yet for upload.
But it got me thinking about lists, and how to explain them to non-birders. Birdwatchers (like any social group with a similar interest) has a vocabulary and jargon that can be rather opaque to outsiders. If you’re not a birder, when I pop in and go “Hey! Palm Warbler! 251 on my life list!” as though that actually is a good thing, I realize you probably have no clue what I’m talking about…
So a short introduction to why birders talk about lists and what they mean….
Birders tend to keep lists — lists of the species they have seen, when and where. In geek speak, the basic piece of data a birder cares about tends to be the set that includes a species name, a date/time, and a latitude/longitude. Over time, you can define your birding career based on all of that collected data.
It’s possible, of course, to add to that data: sex, age, coloration, environmental data, behaviors, pictures — some birders keep very extensive notes, some (like me) tend to keep it more simple, although in general, the rarer the bird and the higher burden of proof there is about the validity of the identification, the more data you tend to collect and report.
But at its most basic, a birding trip boils down to a list of what you saw, when you saw it, where it was seen.
Early on in my birding life, I decided not to keep lists. I kept one in my head, but didn’t do anything formal; I was interested in enjoying birding, not keeping lists or making birding a competition. Ultimately, my list got long enough i had trouble keeping it in my head, so I switched to keeping a formal list. For that, I use eBird, which is run by the Cornell Ornithology lab, and which has a nice side effect of helping create a useful data set for research.
Once you start keeping data, you tend to organize it. Every birder makes decisions on how they want it organized. There are about 10,000 species of bird in the world, and about 900-1000 that inhabit the US and canada. Of that, here in California, 641 species are recognized as having been found in the state. (digression: not all birds are common in the state, not all birds are willing to be seen easily, so every species is given a rarity number from one to six, where one is endemic, like the mourning dove, and six is exceptionally rare).
So when I talk about my life list, it’s every species I’ve seen since I started keeping track. My list is now at 251. One of the realities of a life list is that as it gets larger, it’s harder to find new species to add to it — you either need to chase the rarities that show up (known as “twitching”), or you need to travel to new areas to find species that aren’t local. 250 is a good number for a late beginner, but to get to 350 is going to take some work. Top birders in the US might have 600 species. There are birders who are well over 1,000 species, but they tend to be ones who do extensive travel over a period of years.
After the year list, every birder has their own preferences. I keep a year list, which is the species seen in a calendar year. Some birders keep state lists and county lists, some keep seasonal lists, since with migration, some birds are in a location only certain times of years. How a birder organizes their lists depends on their interests. In my case, I do 90% of my birding in Santa Clara and Alameda county, so I keep it simple. (I also keep a yard list, which is birds I’ve seen from my home property. While typing this, I had a brown creeper wander up the telephone pole at the back of the property near the bird feeder — a new yard bird, #42, which is a nice high number for a suburban backyard. If you keep your eyes open, life can be full of fun little surprises) I’ve met birders who’ keep county lists and who’s goal is to see 200 species in every county in California. I’ve met others who’s goal is 700 species on the life list.
So when you hear a birder talk about lists, that’s what’s going on.
A short summary of my birding life in 2010…
I was finally able to break 250 species on my life list, adding 11 species in 2010: Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Chickadee, Tropical Kingbird, Band-tailed pigeon, Egyptian Goose, Pine Siskin, Mitred Parakeet, Common Tern, Wrentit, and Northern Fulmar.
I broke my previous number of 197 for year list, getting to 199. I actually broke 197 back around thanksgiving, but a combination of this winter’s really funky and wet weather and a flareup of my knee arthritis stopped me cold for most of December, so it looks like 200 will evade me again. Barely. Well, something to shoot for in 2011. Our plan to go to Salton Sea after christmas was cancelled because of the knees, which was just as well, because two days before we were going to head out there, the Taiga Bean Goose disappeared during a winter storm and hasn’t been seen since. Of course….
Overall, I filed 105 checklists with ebird in 12 counties. Not bad, given time and other contingencies. Over on flickr, a number of us did a photo challenge to see how many species we could photograph in one year. I ended up with, or about 3/4 of my year list. the winner of the challenge had somewhere around 360 species for the year, but this was really about pushing yourself, and I’m quite happy with the results.
I’ve been trying to decide what I want to do with my birding in 2011; mostly, it’s just what I have been doing, and perhaps some bit more of it. But I’m not that interested in twitching for rare species, and birding is something I want to leave as a relaxation and escape and not assign too many rules or deadlines to, so I think my goal for 2011 is “just” to keep working on being a better birder and enjoy the hobby for what it is. It would be nice to expand the life list again, so if I could add another 10 species to the life list, that’d be fun. More even better, but it depends on how much time I have and how able I am to go finding new birds — and whether they’re out there.
For what it’s worth, I filed my first list for 2011; a short feederwatch here in the home office. Nothing too fancy, but the first 9 species of 2011 got ticked off. If the knee and the weather cooperate, I do hope to get out and do some birding before the holiday ends.
Earlier this week I had the good fortune to join a several fine photographers (Charlie Cramer, Mike Osborne, and Karl Kroeber) for a few days shooting in the Tuolumne/Tioga Pass area of Yosemite National Park. Getting to spend time with photographers who have so much experience and knowledge of Yosemite was inspiring, and I’m grateful for the chance to join them. While sitting around during the “boring light” hours one afternoon – while waiting for early dinner and travel to a shooting location before the good light – Mike mentioned that they were going to a place that was best not publicized, and he joked that he “might have to blindfold” me if I were to accompany them. Mike was a Yosemite ranger for decades before he retired and it is clear that he loves and cares for the place deeply. He mentioned a few of my posts on this blog in which I had named photo locations and given, in his opinion, a bit too much information about where they are located. This concerns him because he has seen the damage caused by publicity of certain special locations first hand. He also feels that it is often better to gain information about these places the old fashioned way – by word of mouth from an acquaintance or by sleuthing them out yourself. In addition, he also points out – correctly, I think – that many of the photographs I post here are not so much about the location as they are about some thing I saw there, and that it might make sense to title photographs with that in mind. Mikes’ comments have caused me to think quite a bit over the past few days about this issue. First, a few words of self-defense, but then some changes that I intend to make.
It’s not just a photography issue. These situations come up in birding a well; once or twice a year here on the west coast I here of a situation where a notable bird is run off by a birder who gets too enthusiastic and encroaches on its territory enough to scare it away (ruining it for everyone else); it’s fairly common to see both birders and photographers go out of bounds — over fences, into restricted areas, blazing “new trails” in fields of wildflowers, etc — in an effort to get the shot or see the bird. Nests of notable species like owls get popular, and sometimes they get too popular and problems happen; sometimes the nest is abandoned.
What to do? Whenever these situations occur, the debate springs up. In reality, in birding, the debate was over long ago; the senior birders have learned over the years to be careful about being too disclosing about sensitive birds and habitat. They self-edit public disclosure to protect senstive birds and locations from being pounded to pieces by popularity — which occasionally creates debates about whether they have the “right” to not disclose these things by the folks not “in the loop” (short answer: of course they do. it’s their information. they’re under no obligation to share; get over it, and earn their respect and get involved enough in the community to be part of those private discussions. hint: I’m not yet; and I’m in no hurry).
What I wonder abut here is how technology is affecting this. Do sites like Flickr and ebird make it harder to be careful about these areas? Well, more and more of us carry phones with GPS in it; more and more cameras are coming with GPS chips in them, automatically encoding location in great detail, and sites like flickr will automatically disclose that data for you. Location-based sites like Gowalla and Foresquare are building businesses around this data, and I admit I’ve been exploring and experimenting with Foresquare and mobile GPS data as a way to help networking among birders — but this issue is one that’s made me go slow and try to think through not just how to use these new techie toys, but when, and why.
We haven’t yet STARTED the discussion of the ethics of these capabilities, or created some kind of standards to help people know when to publish that data and when to hide it. Who makes those decisions? Right now, it’s the elders in the group making judgement calls informally, but that model is going to fail over time as technology automates disclosure of this info. Is part of your instruction at a photo workshop going to be telling students to disable the camera GPS?
I think we need a dialog on this, and an understanding of disclosure vs. protection and how precise. Right now, since I geoencode my photos manually, I can choose just how precise my location is going to be; I have consciously chosen at times not to be TOO specific about the location of something, especially if I’m shooting a nest or working in sensitive terrain.
For that matter, the fact that I DO photograph nesting birds is controversial in some parts of photography, and I’m sensitive to that; I try to work under very specific rules when I work near nests, the first of which is simple: any time I get any hint I’m interfering with the nest, I leave. Immediately. I might try again at some later time and be more careful about distance and approach, but if I see any sign the birds are stressing, I get the hell out, now, and figure out next steps after they have the ability to settle down. I feel that way about any animal I’m photographing — if I flush a bird while trying to set up a shot, I slow down. If I flush it twice, I stop trying.
Unfortunately, not all photographers worry about their subjects enough, whether it be animal or a pristine location. And this is nothing new. I remember reading one of John Shaw’s photo books from the 80′s on macro photography in which he complained about witnessing another photographer take macro shots of a flower, and then destroying the flower to prevent any other photographer from shooting it.
Unfortunately, some people are jerks, some simply don’t care, and many are simply well meaning but naive. And I think we need to figure out how to teach those that are teachable to behave, and how to protect what we cherish from those that aren’t — especially since our tools are creating solutions that make it easier to show everyone where images were made and where birds were found, and in many cases, those tools are going to be doing so in an automated way that we may not remember to turn off (or strip), and that many others won’t even realize is happening…