Date: 6/20/20 3:05 pm
From: <t4c1x...>
Subject: [obol] Re: [ADV] Helping others get on a good bird
Very good, Paul, but it begs a question. How do you apply this method to pelagic species seen from shore? I have found it is almost impossible to share with anybody the position of a bird in such situations, regardless of whether it was swimming or flying. Part of the difficulty is the differing perspective people have of distance. What might look like 100 yards to some people might be half a mile to others. Also the position of the bird relative to the position of the observer. I have generally used the, "It's at 10 o'clock" method, but again, perspective is a problem. And on a flying bird, it is almost useless. Many times birds fly close to the water, so they periodically go behind swells. 10 o'clock when you see the bird may well be 7 or 2 o'clock by the time it reappears. Any help, here?


From: "Paul Sullivan" <paultsullivan...>
To: "obol" <obol...>
Sent: Saturday, June 20, 2020 9:26:08 AM
Subject: [ADV] [obol] Helping others get on a good bird

Recently I was birding with friends who found a good bird. I wanted to see the bird, but they struggled to help me get on it. It was frustrating.

I have been leading bird walks and trips for nearly 40 years, and I’ve developed some techniques for helping others get on a bird quickly. I’ve written an article for publication that I hope will come out in the not-too-distant future. Meanwhile, let me offer a brief summary.


If you find a good bird the first step is to communicate. Don’t stammer and say, “I don’t know how to tell you where it is.” Communicate all that you know, not just “hawk!”, but ‘Hawk flying, on the right side of the road, going left, below the horizon.” Don’t make people ask, “Is it flying? Which side of the road?” Which way is it going?”


If the bird is moving, time is of the essence. Say if the bird is flying, swimming, or walking and which way it’s going.

Divide the scene into quadrants: Which side of the road, above or below the horizon, ahead of the car or behind, on the fence or in the road.


If the bird is perched and hard to find, look carefully with your binoculars. Note the branches near it. Lock onto the bird with your eyes, lock your neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists. Then swivel JUST YOUR SHOULDERS to lower your binoculars and see the bird with your naked eye. Note the surroundings, the context. Put your binoculars back up and refind the bird. Do this a couple times to make sure you have the location. This only takes a few seconds.

Once you have the “big picture” of where the bird is, DEVELOP A NARRATIVE to lead others to the spot. Pick out an unambiguous landmark in the area and lead others from that landmark to the bird.

Example: Across the prairie there are two red barns. Start with the right-hand barn. In front of it, slightly right, is a lone Ponderosa pine in a fence row. Count 5 fence posts to the right of that tree and you’ll find the Great Gray Owl.

Example: Out here in the flats there are 3 strips of water. Look at the farthest strip. In the middle of that strip, on the near shore, next to a tall brown weed is a shorebird, facing right. That is a Willet.


Before you get down to the detail of where the bird is, describing a branch with a funny crook, crossing in front of another branch, you need to get people on the right tree, then on the left side of the trunk, then in the top 10 feet of the tree, then half-way out from the trunk to the tip of the branch.

Example: Look at this big P. pine right here. Go back to the maple behind it on the left. The birds are in that tree. Look at the longest branch on the left side of the maple. Go up one more branch which is just above the horizon. Half way out on that branch are two Band-tailed Pigeons.


Next, repeat your directions for the person who came late to the narrative. Say the name of the species again, for the person who asks, “What are we looking for?”


Finally, help the person who is standing where something is blocking their view, or who just doesn’t get what you’re talking about. The person who says, “Oh, THAT tree. I thought you meant this one.”

If the bird goes out of sight, say so. Tell people when it comes back into view. Tell them it’s a female, so they aren’t looking for a bright male.

Finally, praise the person who found it first. Acknowledge your mistakes.

Good bird-sharing,

Paul Sullivan

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