Date: 11/30/18 9:28 am From: David Irons <llsdirons...> Subject: [obol] Re: bb incident and what I learned
Like you, I grew up in a birding family and similarly started looking at birds around 5-6 years of age. Like you, I have also lead many field trips with groups ranging from five to nearly 50 participants. It is cat-herding in the best of cases and clearly we become the "bad cop" in the worst of cases. Like you, I have also participated in birding behaviors that "pushed" birds around unnecessarily. In the case of the Eastern Bluebirds, I purposefully did not take my camera with me because I know if I have it with me I will be inclined to want to get closer than needed to get photos. Once I saw the situation I was glad that I had left my camera home and was able to just view the birds from a comfortable distance (for them).
Most birders–even the new ones–tend to look for and respond to social clues when establishing the ground rules for their behavior in the field. In other words, if they are unsure about what is, or is not appropriate behavior they look around and see what others are doing and join the group. That said, there are invariably birders for whom this is not a natural instinct. Some of us just aren't very social to start with, so our natural tendency is to wander away from the group (I can be one of these). This is not an indictment of those types, it is just the reality. In situations where a bunch of independent birders are showing up to chase and photograph a rare bird there are typically no established ground rules with regards to giving the bird(s) enough space to settle in and get comfortable. Sometimes it takes a few days to fully understand the bird's routine and set up viewing protocols.
One thing that I've done in the past (probably to the annoyance of others) is to take the lead in assessing the situation and trying to come up with a strategy that allows everyone to get good looks at a bird without putting too much stress on it. There was Summer Tanager that showed up at a feeder in the front yard of a house in Alvadore (near Eugene) years ago. When we first looked for it we we were all standing in plain view in the middle of the yard maybe 40-50 feet from the feeder. The bird was really skittish and if it came in at all it would only remain for a second or two and be gone. I eventually suggested that we create a viewing area across the street on a narrow little side road where everyone could park safely and then set up scopes aimed at the feeder. The bird then came and went from the feeder routinely and would stay for many minutes at time. Did everyone get full-frame photos in this scenario? No, but a lot more people were able to come and get great looks at the tanager.
In the past we could assume that OBOL was the primary conduit for learning about rare birds in Oregon, so it was pretty easy to get the message out to the masses once viewing protocols were established. This is no longer the case. For many, eBird is now the primary information source about rare birds. It's easy for birders to learn what is being seen and the exact location by following the pin drop. Unfortunately, the average eBird checklist doesn't include any commentary about suggested birding etiquette or best viewing practices.
There are no easy way around this conundrum, other than being willing–even if it is a bit stressful–to approach folks and coach them a little. What I find works best is this. First explain to them that "I/we have been watching this bird and it seems to really like this feeder or patch of habitat and will return to it often if we keep a safe distance away." Follow that up with "we've found that if we stand here and remain quiet and still the bird comes and goes routinely and we have been getting great looks." Most birders will readily join this party. The social experience of sharing in great looks at a rare bird with others is part of the fun of birding and it is an experience that will help newer birders come to understand the community standards that we all hope to encounter at these gatherings.
From: <obol-bounce...> <obol-bounce...> on behalf of Jim Danzenbaker <jdanzenbaker...>
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2018 3:54 PM
Subject: [obol] bb incident and what I learned
First, I want to thank everyone who responded to my request for feedback on the bluebird photographer incident yesterday morning at the Dharma Center in Portland. It has indeed been a spirited conversation and I think positives definitely were identified as a result of the conversation.
Regardless of the fact that about 80% of the responses supported posting the photo, I chose not to for several reasons:
1.) Public shaming is not what OBOL is for. OBOL is for sharing information about birds and birding and I don't want to throw a wrench into that mission.
2.) I feel that there is usually a back story behind human behavior and to jump on somebody for doing something that I felt wasn't good behavior would be pompous on my part and that is NOT me.
3.) The conversation that has developed as a result of this incident has been enough to highlight feelings (both for and against) and the result of publicly sharing the photo would not add anything productive.
4.) Introspectively, I've asked myself if there was ever a time when I may have crossed a line to look for a bird. My obvious answer to that was, yes, I have. I looked for the Skylark in Newport several years ago - wandering around in tall grass trying to get a Skylark to fly. That was probably worse than anything that I saw this photographer do. I regret doing that even to this day.
I have been a birder since I was 6 years old and photography has been a part of my family for the last 50 years. I have also been a bird guide and tour leader for a number of years. Unfortunately, the latter has taught me to be ultra vigilant when I see bad behavior. One part of my position as a guide on a long standing tour that I co-led was being a bird cop which meant in the field enforcement of human behavior rules around birds. It was never fun to inform somebody who had spent $20k to take a trip to a remote part of the world and take awe inspiring photos that they had to back off or (in cases of repeat offenses) return to the ship. That is now a part of my past and I don't want to be in that situation again and I tend to shy away from those situations now.
Having said that, I think that we need to police ourselves when we see behavior that we deem to be "unethical" or bad. I was wrong in that I didn't attempt to communicate with the photographer yesterday. I closed the door on that part of my life years ago except when I am hired as a guide at different birding and nature viewing events across the country when I do "enforce" the rules as set forth by the organizers of those events. Policing ourselves includes just pleasantly conversing about birds and bird behavior with those who, in our eyes, tend not to get the fact that our presence shouldn't adversely affect the birds (or any part of nature for that matter) that we are observing. Messages can be vocalized in very nice ways.
I do want to speak to feedback from someone who responded basically stating that talking to the photographer (or birder or nature viewer or fill in the blank) would have alerted them to the error of their ways and changed their behavior going forward. I received feedback from somebody else who basically said that they had an incident in which they spoke to someone showing bad behavior and the message didn't sink in and the person being spoken to blamed the behavior on somebody else. So it doesn't work the way we hoped for every time.
I'll get off my soap box now and don my binoculars and spotting scope and prepare for another day of pursuing my favorite pastime.
Again, thanks to the OBOL community for the discussion. I don't want to take up valuable OBOL bandwidth on this subject so I will bow out.