Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Citizen's Guide: Preface [I'd Love to Save the World]

Below is the preface from the Citizen's Guide that I wrote about previously. I have some comments at the end.

The Citizen's Guide to Migratory Bird Conservation

Birds are important in many ways. From an ecological point of view, they are a vital component of the web of life. For example, they keep insect numbers in check, they serve as food for other predators, and they disperse pollen and seed.

Birds also occupy an important place in our culture. they hold us enchanted as objects of beauty: watching a bird inspires us, in our minds, to spread our own wings.

And birds are important for moral reasons. As humans we are endowed with a conscience that asks us to address the needs of species other than our own. Caring about birds -- small and large, drab and gorgeous - reflects a full appreciation of the of life and a love for the whole of life.

Most ecological processes cannot be altered without serious consequences. All components of an ecosystem exist for some purpose -- some may be vital to the ecosystems survival, while others may be ecological equivalents. Often, however, we do not know what the true function is or how important a given component or process may be. Therefore, the prudent course is to assume that all components are important and to strive to conserve them all.

How do we do it? It's actually quite simple: to ensure the future of migratory birds, the human planning process must provide for their needs. We must learn their requirements for suitable habitat and then maintain it for them.

This Citizen's Guide to Migratory Bird Conservation can get you started as a partner in this endeavor. It provides tips on things you can do, from writing action-inspiring letters on bird-related issues, to habitat conservation or information-gathering projects that you can do in your own backyard or neighborhood, to involvement in regional and national land-use planning. It describes the role of state and federal agencies and other organizations in the effort to conserve birds. And it delineates methods for maintaining goal-oriented conservation groups. The methods included have all proven effective in obtaining valuable results.

As concerned citizens, we seek to save birds because we believe they are important to the ecosystems upon which we and all living things depend, because they have made our lives richer, and because we have learned to care about them.

Editors' note: The issues and methods of bird conservation described in this Citizen's Guide will change. We look forward to updating this publication periodically, so please send us your suggestions and comments.

Greenberg, R. and S. Lumpkin. 1995. Citizen's Guide to Migratory Bird Conservation, Bonney, R., S. Carlson, and M. Fischer, eds. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

The authors are: Russell Greenberg and Susan Lumpkin, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC 20008

My comments:
First, note that this section has been excerpted in its entirety. The author information and article text current as of 1995.

So, what do you think? Any suggestions to improve this preface? Personally, I find it a compelling and well-written piece, the content is timeless. It certainly sets the stage and primes you for preserving these wonderful creatures. Fifteen years later, how can we improve it?


Friday, September 25, 2009

You Gotta Go Outside! [It Is On]

Quick post to say there are a bazillion (give or take a kajillion) birds moving tonight. Here's the radar map from midnight EDT, note the depth of the dark blue doughnut-shaped circles. Light blue means birds are moving, dark blue means even more birds are moving. Green centers of those blues, like Homer Simpson's desired bowling ball with the liquid center, indicates heavy migration. Twenty minutes in the backyard was filled with more calls than I typically hear, almost exclusively thrushes and other low-frequency calling birds (that is, no sparrows or warblers that I could discern).

Be careful not to confuse the blocky green-with-yellow over Ohio and West Virginia with migration, that's rain. But the greens that show up encompassed by blue, hold on to your hats: lots of birds overhead.

Birding may be worth a few extra minutes in the morning!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Citizens of the Natural World [I'd Love to Save the World]

My thoughts about savoring the world often intertwine with thoughts concerned with saving the world. Sometimes these bouts of synaptic co-mingling lead to something productive, I'm happy to report.

One f'rinstance happened this summer at the annual meeting of the American Ornithologist's Union (an event I have yet to finish blogging about, I know, I know . . . ). Stemming from a conversation with fellow birder, educator, ornithologist and former-Cornellian Dan Lebbin I found a topic I'm excited to present on a regular basis, right here on this blog, as best I can.

In the proverbial nutshell: how can the average citizen, if there is such a thing, play a direct role in conserving our natural world? In addition to the mantras of indirect participation like, "reduce, reuse, recycle," "buy organic," "buy local," and "carry your own shopping bag," how can that average citizen become truly empowered for more direct action? (But seriously, now. Are any of us average? Except that one guy from Iowa who sits at the very top of the meaty part of the bell curve?)

Maybe, for the sake of argument, it could be something like a guide that highlights conservation issues and illustrates what citizens could do in their yard, in their community, or even from their desk to address them. It might list conservation programs and give guidelines to protect habitat, even list projects that welcome participation in scientific studies.

Maybe I can present something like that here. And maybe I'm cheating because it already exists!

Cast your mind back, if you will, to 1990. Joe Hazelwood goes on trial in Anchorage Alaska, Germany reunites, Microsoft releases Windows 3.0, and Partners in Flight, a hemispheric venture also called CompaƱeros en Vuelo and/or Partenaires d’Envol, is launched. This supraorganization that I'll simply call PIF was created "in response to growing concerns about declines in the populations of many land bird species, and in order to emphasize the conservation of birds not covered by existing conservation initiatives."

And in addition to a world of promising and realized ventures, in 1995 they released this:

Citizen's Guide to Migratory Bird ConservationI haven't been able to find it on the web anywhere, which is both frustrating and unfortunate. One of my first tasks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology was to create a web version of this hardcopy document. Somewhere, somehow, it dropped off of the Lab's web site, likely because it needs a major update.

In spite of its datedness the basic ideas and suggestions are timeless, much like '60's pop music or '70's sitcoms. It's something that should be available to everyone and anyone. And I don't even have to worry about whether it's in the public domain or has the proper Creative Commons license. The very last line (SPOILER ALERT!) reads, "Partner's in Flight encourages reproduction of this Citizen's Guide or any part thereof." There you have it, folks, a direct mandate to get the word out.

And a direct plea for you: when I upload a portion, please drop your suggestions for updates, current links or programs, and anything else that may improve the document. Who knows, I may be one of those lucky bloggers who turns their blog into a book!

Well, that's not likely, but someone might. And I'll make sure to incorporate them so it will once again be suitable for the Lab's web site in its entirety. Please tune in for my first installment next week.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Where You At? [Soul Searching]

I hear you, that near-constant clamoring outside the gates, wondering where I've disappeared to, just how far underground have I gone?

Well, my overactive, co-dependent personality hears it.

I'm here. Same Bat-place, same Bat-channel. Things have been busy. Fall migration is the high season for migration studies, you know. End of summer gardening and landscaping, teaching a five-year-old to ride a two-wheeler, camping trips, an end of the summer trip to the Eastern Shore. Processing the photos from the end of the summer trip to the Eastern Shore.

And I know all of those are lame excuses. "If you loved it, you'd make time for it" I hear you (or someone in your general direction) say, voice shrill, finger wagging.

You're right. Maybe I'm coming to a realization that I simply don't have that fire about blogging that some of you do. That I don't really like monitoring unique visitors and page views or checking in on the toplist once a day. That there are things I love more than blogging. I've felt bad about the ethereal nature of this blog, honest. That it doesn't have a theme that's deeply meaningful or universally important, that I sporadically update, if that. What's one step below "sporadic"? I feel bad that I don't follow all of those rules I keep seeing in the webosphere, those "10 Things Bloggers Have to Do!"

I read those and get depressed. First, I go through the "I'll never be a real blogger" blues, the sad realization I'm over here on Blogger with a "blogspot" thing in my domain name (hell, it's not even mine!) while the real bloggers have their own domains and use Wordpress. Real bloggers religiously self-promote (because they have something to promote) and go to conferences to learn how to become better bloggers. Then I move to something broader and deeper, something more universal. That not too long ago blogging was fun, spontaneous, free-spirited endeavor. That it's becoming organized and controlled, creating a sense that if you're not in, you're out.

But I've made my peace with all of that. Some people need the structure and methods, they're promoting themselves, their talents, their skills. Maybe re-inventing themselves, maybe hoping to make a living blogging. Blogs are a viable and valuable marketing tool, and to use them as such you need appropriate strategies and tactics on top of what we all bring to the blogosphere. But not all of us are trying to make a living through blogging, which is perfectly fine, too.

And what do we all bring? A myriad of experiences. Unique perspectives. A mesh of styles and opinions, a breadth of knowledge and humor. And a willingness, if not a passion, to put them out there and (maybe, just maybe) have them read.

I'm giving away something Wren might ask if I ever get interviewed on the Nature Blog Network, but I intended to maintain a blog primarily as a repository for trip reports and birding experiences, photos I took (or made, if you're from the south) from those expeditions. A journal I could digitally flip through in my golden years as I fawned over the way it all used to be.

I suspect that changed when I realized someone other than me read my terribly dry posts. When you know someone else is looking, everything changes. Now I wasn't writing for myself, but for you, Gentle Reader. As is wont to happen, communities formed, something I didn't expect: I made friends, many still unmet. Now is a good place to say thank you to all of you who read, and especially those who comment. I hope we'll meet for coffee or a beer someday.

Whether you noticed or not I strived to be more entertaining while providing something interesting to take home. I don't know exactly what I've morphed this blog into, other than I still enjoy writing about my birding local birding and distant trips. I like showcasing photographs (hopefully they're getting better), trying to wrap them with infotainment. I especially love picking fodder based on what excites my daughter. About nature, that is, I spare you the daily tea parties and faux jewelery dress-ups. But if it's in the natural world and gets a five-year-old jazzed it must be good.

So I've made my peace with you, World Wide Blogosphere. If you're blogging for yourself, enjoy your time here and have fun. Relax, let yourself come through your posts, let us get to know you. Visit when you can, stop in when you're in the neighborhood. For those who live here, driven by stats and page views, power to you, too.

Oh, and to make sure I include some eye candy here's an image from earlier this summer. I call it "Two Insects That Chose to Have Sex on Our Patio." That should get some additional Google-search traffic. When do I get to review books and score free trips to birding hot spots, anyway?

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Skies at Night

The skies at night certainly are big and bright on the radar screen, and not just in Texas. Last night's radar, Friday, September 04, was simply hopping here in NY.

Above is the radar from about 10:00 PM (EDT), which shows some intense dark blue across the north side of Lake Ontario and into the Adirondack mountains. The western sides of Massachusetts and Connecticut are also showing some serious airborne activity.

The time I spent outside, intermittent periods between 9:00 PM and midnight, were not throbbing with avian sound as I hoped. A few calls here and there, mostly warblers and sparrows but a couple of Swainson's Thrush mixed in, and they fought to be heard through the din of insects and my neighbor's affection for .38 Special.

Moon watching, on the other hand, was spectacular, at least in my limited experience. All told it averaged about a bird per minute, all small, all transiting the moon to the south. At least two bats danced independently in seemingly random directions. It's not like they were waltzing with one another, they'd appear from below, slow and graceful, and seem to hover. A few beats of the wings would take them higher, into the Sea of Tranquility, past the Sea of Crisis, and out past the edge of the moon. Or towards the crater Copernicus, through the Ocean of Storms and back into invisibility. By now you may be guessing I dug out my college astronomy text. Busted - you're right.

Near Full Moon
The cold front that prompted these birds to take flight will hopefully open another door of migration tonight. I'll be out again, listening and watching.

What are you seeing/hearing in your neck of the woods?


Friday, September 4, 2009

I Wear My Sunglasses At Night

Last night was slow for nocturnal migrant watching on our hill, I never did see anything fly past the face of the moon. Others reported seeing a few birds here and there from sites nearby and far away, but all I noted were the flight calls of a few warblers and sparrows, and they only came after midnight.

Maybe I missed the silhouettes while my rods and cones were recovering from the brightness of the moon. I wore sunglasses while staring through the scope which helped a lot, but not enough. After staring for a few minutes I would turn and look at a patch of wildflowers in our yard, illuminated by moonlight to show white flowers as white, purple and red flowers as black, and yellow flowers as pale yellow. I could actually make out the yellow flowers with my non-scope eye. But if I covered my left eye and stared at the flowers with my right eye? They disappeared. It was an blind spot in my vision, a scotoma.

Which can't be good. But I'm seeing fine again now, so I'll be trying again tonight. Maybe I need darker shades?

David La Puma of Woodcreeper fame, a site dedicated to tracking migrating birds with radar, uploaded digiscoped clips of birds flying by the moon:





Don't blink while you watch!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Watch the Moon, Count the Birds

Mike Lanzone, flight-call guru (among other things) from the Powdermill Avian Research Center, is loosely coordinating a moonwatch tonight. The moon will be nearly full tonight, and if the weather cooperates migrating birds should be visible as they wing their way south.

Mike recently posted to the new Nocturnal Flight Call listserve (NFC-L),

A number of you have indicated that you would like to participate so I am just sending some very brief instructions for anyone that wants to participate. I am thinking that if possible between 10-11 and 11-12 we could watch at least 2 times during the hour for 5 minutes. Only count birds that actually go through the lighted part of the moon, but you can note others that you see in your field of view. I will be doing this 4 times per hour 5 minutes each time, starting at 9:00 pm. If you can only do this once for 10 minutes that will be ok too. This is fairly informal now, hopefully in the future it can become more. You should record the time(s) you begin and end, your location- closest town or lat/long, # birds that pass the moon (and bats too if you see any), other observations, and optics used. Send me your results and I will post to the list once I compile. Possibly in October we can get more people to join in!

Original email here. And if your concerned about identification, don't be! No need to ID species down to . . . well, species.

Why wait for October? If you've got some time tonight, wander outside and have a look. Or use tonight as a practice run for a wider effort in October. Or just got out and enjoy the night sounds, and take in Jupiter - with decent optics you can see at least four moons!

Of further interest:
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