Date: 1/4/19 9:44 am
From: Wayne Weber <contopus...>
Subject: [obol] Re: 1980s style reporting and experiences
Joel and Oregon Birders,

“Areas where you could only get country-western music and occasionally Wolfman Jack, late at Night”?? They sound like great places to me-- the Oregon backcountry!

By the way, you referred to hearing Spruce Grouse hooting in the Pasayten Wilderness. Spruce Grouse don’t hoot—the only sound the males normally make is a sharp wing-clapping display, which many people wouldn’t even recognize as a bird sound. You must have been thinking of Sooty Grouse, which do hoot and are found at least in the west end of the Pasayten (Dusky Grouse in the rest of it).

At any rate, I enjoyed your musings about times long ago and places far away (at least for me). Muse on!

Wayne C. Weber

Delta, BC


From: <obol-bounce...> [mailto:<obol-bounce...>] On Behalf Of <clearwater...>
Sent: Friday, January 04, 2019 8:06 AM
To: <obol...>
Cc: Paul Sullivan
Subject: [obol] 1980s style reporting and experiences (was: To Spill a Mockingbird)

Hi Paul and all,

I enjoyed the mention of pay phones, which have become an endangered species since the 1980s. If you can find even one today, chances are that it's been vandalized and no one noticed for the past couple of months.

As recently as 2012 I used a pay phone in Mitchell to call home during trips for CBCs, BBS routes etc. Mitchell was a no-go zone for cell phones until local businesses and residents stitched together a land-line based hotspot for Verizon cell phones. There are still large areas of Wheeler County where cellular network reception is a modern myth, ditto for southeastern Lake County and neighboring parts of Nevada. Your coverage may vary depending on whether you have a 2g, 3g or 4g phone.

When you get to Hart Mountain, there are just a handful of spots where volunteers can go to connect with the outside world. In winter, one of the warmest of those is what we call the "Group W Bench," with W standing for wifi. You have to trudge about 150 yards over ice and snow, being careful not to slip and drop your portable device. Once you get there, there's room for up to three people at a time. The best spot is at the left end of the bench so during busy periods, as one person leaves, everyone else slides over. But busy periods are rare. Usually you have the bench to yourself, with just a couple of pronghorn skulls staring back at you from the opposite wall. Every so often the fan for the furnace in the basement of that CCC-constructed stone building kicks in and the whole floor vibrates enough to confuse the overly sensitive touch-screen on my netbook, which is why I didn't try to send a report of our results from there.

At Sheldon NWR in northernmost Nevada, there are no wifi hotspots but this year one volunteer from Reno was able to get reception on his smartphone, and was using it to check eBird and the NVBIRDS listserv. We heard regular updates on the Groove-billed Ani that's still being seen in the far corner of the state, also a couple of sketchy eBird RBAs that I think turned out to be erroneous. That's OK, it's not like any of us were of the mind to jump in the car and drive 500+ miles to go look for them.

After that fellow went to bed and until he got up again, we were in an information blackout. So we didn't hear definite word on the federal government shutdown that evening, until we got up the next morning and were cleaning up the bunkhouse. I suppose we could have hopped in the car and driven half a mile or so up the grade to where we could tune in the station that carries Rush Limbaugh, but why ruin the evening and disturb the jackrabbits?

Back in the 1980s, there were a lot of places like that (and blessedly without that brand of talk radio, though some people did complain about areas where you could only get country-western music and occasionally Wolfman Jack, late at night).

I wasn't dialed into birder networks at the time, so I never worried about finding a pay phone if I'd seen an interesting bird, nor did I worry that I was missing something that someone else was seeing 5, 50, or 500 miles away. I could hike 15 miles into the Pasayten Wilderness without seeing a single other soul, and listen to Spruce Grouse hooting after a rainstorm. Or stumble into a large stand of massive old-growth after picking huckleberries while enjoying close views of "Winter" Wrens and MacGillivray's Warblers, and never even consider telling someone about it until I got back home. The big worry back then was nuclear war. I figured that I wouldn't need any news reports to know if that was happening, and the other news could wait.

You can still do those things today, though those large old-growth stands are much harder to find and you'll seldom have one to yourself. Sadly that's something that today's teenagers and 20-somethings will never experience, in the way that we were able to 40 years ago. Even along trails through wilderness areas, chances are you'll run into someone who's been checking their phone at every opportunity, maybe even blogging their journey as they go.

I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's a different kind of experience, just as people of our age can't truly imagine what it was like for David Douglas when he ventured up the Willamette Valley in 1832, without even a telegraph network, let alone pay phones to call home.

I don't really like to think about what things will be like in 2032, let alone 2060. Likely communications about rare birds will be even more immediate, and that will make some people very happy. But what kinds of natural experiences will be left for the youngest kids of my nephews and nieces, who will be teenagers then?

Joel Geier
Camp Adair area north of Corvallis

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