Date: 7/20/17 9:01 am
From: Paul Sullivan <paultsullivan...>
Subject: [obol] Re: teaching with bad photos
Yeah, Tom, you're right :-)

My field experiences are always picture perfect. Great light, no leaves in
the way, etc. Yeah, right. :-)

In the field I/we do struggle with elusive, puzzling views of birds. We ask
our friends, "Get on that bird up there. I can't see its head. Can you
tell what it is? I think it's may be a vireo, but I can't see enough."
What we end up with over time is a mosaic of glimpses. From them we build a
composite of the whole bird and come to an identification -- or maybe the
bird flies off and we don't know what it was. Marginal photos capture only
a few frames out of that whole field experience. Sometimes they can provide
an answer, but not always.

It can be fun to work on a puzzle together, trying to sort out what we're
seeing. I acknowledge that we've learned more about Empidonax flycatchers
and fall warblers over time by studying photos and specimens.

I guess there's two groups of "students" here. Those who are quite a ways
along the learning curve may jump in and wrestle with the marginal photo,
pointing out the white square patch on the wing (I think I see it. Do you?)
Those who are at the beginning of the learning curve are left saying
"Whaaat? You lost me." Not everyone wants to be able to identify birds by
their underwings alone.

So researchers are working on the puzzle of cancer, or the birth of stars.
Lots of contradictory clues. Experts disagreeing. The public confused.
Only when we have come to some synthesis of the clues and put them in an
order that takes in all the disparate pieces of the puzzle can we tell a
coherent story to the public.

Through research the investigators learn. Through good teaching the layman

Good puzzling to you,

-----Original Message-----
From: tom crabtree [mailto:<tomcr1968...>] On Behalf Of Tom Crabtree
Sent: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 10:34 PM
To: <paultsullivan...>; <obol...>
Cc: <larmcqueen...>
Subject: RE: [obol] teaching with bad photos

And, of course, Paul, you never have bad looks at birds when you are out in
the field. And never have fleeting glances. And the birds always look
perfect like the best images in the best books. (And things were always
better in the good ol' days, but that's another story).

Unfortunately, that isn't reality for most of us. We learn more pushing the
envelope, challenging us to go beyond our comfort level and having things so
they aren't wrapped up in a box with a little bow on top. That's why some
people study empids and come up with ways of separating them. Or sub-adult
gulls. It's why we don't have only "confusing fall warblers" anymore. A
recent Birding photo quiz showed the underwing patterns of some birds with
their heads chopped off. They point was these are similar looking birds,
can you ID them without the obvious advantage of seeing the whole bird.

Bad photos are good challenges and separate those willing to stretch their
ID skills rather than have the answers handed to them on a plate.

My 2 cents worth, with all due respect.

Tom Crabtree

-----Original Message-----
From: <obol-bounce...> [mailto:<obol-bounce...>] On Behalf
Of Paul Sullivan
Sent: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 10:07 PM
To: <obol...>
Cc: <larmcqueen...>
Subject: [obol] teaching with bad photos

Larry, with all due respect,

I am strongly against teaching with bad photos. If you want to educate
people on what birds look like, I think it best to marshal the best images
you can. Isnít that why we make field guides? Donít artists aim to capture
the true color, shape, jizz, etc of each species Ė at various seasons and
ages? If you want to teach mathematics you donít begin with insoluble

Iíve been to presentations where marginal photos are offered as examples of
what a rare species looks like. Iíve been to birdersí nights where quiz
birds are offered up. People talk about ďchallengeĒ and some folks enjoy
the back-and-forth. It is a place for the people who already know a lot to
show off, to get (or guess) the right answer. It is a place for the
presenter to say, ďI know the answer, bet you canít guess what this is.Ē I
think these kind of experiences intimidate or confuse people more than

I donít think such sessions really educate people. I think if you are going
to take someone and lead them along, you need to move in an organized
progression, showing field marks, explaining habitat and behavior,
illustrating your lesson with the best images you can muster. Echoing your
comment, I believe the living bird on a field trip can teach in a few
minutes more than can be captured in any series of photos.

Thatís my two cents.

Paul Sullivan

Subject: Re: digest non-attachments
Date: Wed Jul 19 2017 22:32 pm
From: larmcqueen AT

Joel and all,

This is of course, another lesson on the difficulties of photo IDs, and this
was an especially challenge one, due to limitations. Most aspects of the
field are not present in photos, and these were reduced to nearly minimal.
The fun of it is the challenge, and we could be playing more with the
challenge. How about others deliberately posting bad photos on this list,
as a teaching exercise?


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