Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rules For the Internet Birder (or, How to not be an Asshole)

Internet drama.  We've all seen it.  Honestly, we've all probably been a part of it.  You're a faceless name, and your opinion deserves to be heard and respected.  It's imperative that everybody knows that you're against Obama, or Monsanto, and nobody had better try to shut you up.  I get it.  But surely, this nastiness and immaturity could never work its way into the world of birding.  We're a happy bunch; peaceful, loving, and inviting.  We get all gooey hearted at the sound of a singing Hermit Thrush.  We gaze with wonder at a flyover Bald Eagle.  We could never be lowered to fits of petty bickering and egomania.  Sounds great.  But, you know where this is going.  We're all dead fucking wrong.  Many birders of the internet have a distinct tendency to be nasty, bitter pricks.  Take a look at your local LISTSERV (TX is especially bad).  Pop on over to one of the many birder Facebook groups.  Insults.  Degradation.  Overreaction and defensiveness.  The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive has previously addressed the situation, but I fear that his words have fallen upon deaf ears.  No, no, no my little nerding friends.  You're not above it at all.  And as easy as it is to sit back and judge all these bastards arguing with each other about Orange-crowned Warblers and juvenile Red-tailed Hawks, it's just as easy to get sucked into the madness.  At some point we will all, intentionally or not, dip our toes into some bullshit birding online drama, and I'm here, as a service to you, offering you the tools to avoid all of the nonsense and keep your much earned birder reputation in tact.  And away we go.

An Orange-crowned Warbler is never a good reason to call someone a Motherfucker.
1.  Don't take yourself seriously.  We could delve into some heavy shit about the Buddha and the ridiculous concept of self, but I don't really think that's necessary.  Just stop taking yourself so goddamned seriously.  It only makes you look like a moron.  If somebody suggests a better way for you to interact with the online birding community, take it in stride.  When it comes down to it, we're all just a bunch of nerds who spend our time thinking, talking, and learning about birds.  It's really rather absurd.  Think about it.

2.  Understand your role.  I know, I know.  Everybody is equal and everyone's opinions are as important as everyone else's.  That's obviously the correct way to think about many matters in life.  But birding is an extracurricular activity.  Nobody is trying to take away your right to vote.  Believe it or not, there are people out there that know more about this shit than you, and it would be wise of you to shut your mouth and listen for awhile.  Take the time to learn who is full of shit and who is full of knowledge.  This is really important.  The best birders are leaving these discussions because of the insults getting thrown at them.  Seriously.  Shut the fuck up and observe the discourse quietly for a bit.

3. Do not blow up forums with pictures of Northern Cardinals.  I hate to pick on NOCA, but it's the most frequent offending bird (close with archilochus hummers).  Look, I'm glad that you snapped that great photo of a bird happily munching away at your feeder.  It's nice, they're beautiful birds; I understand.  But don't spam LISTSERVs and FB groups with all of your "glorious wonder" pictures.  Save that shit for your aunt Sandy in Wisconsin.  She'd be so proud of you.  While we're at it, keep the fucking watermarks off of your photos.  I know that we all should be super impressed with your magnificent photo of a chickadee, but adding "Nature's Treasures by Pam" is unnecessary, tacky, and aesthetically offensive.

This is a lovely picture of a Carolina Wren; however it absolutely does not merit posting to any birding forum .
4. Post for ID help sparingly and correctly.  This part could actually be broken down into many subtopics.  First off, refer to rule #3.  Don't blow up ID help forums.  It's just rude.  Don't post shitty images.  "I just can't figure out what this gray blurry streak is.  If you say it's a Lincoln's Sparrow, that would be a lifer!"  No one else can figure it out either.  And I hesitate to call anything a lifer that you can't identify in the field (there may be exceptions to the rule, but a goddamned Lincoln's Sparrow is not one of them).  Listen to what people say without getting offended.  Again, there are people in this world that are much better birders than you. Piss them off, and you'll fuck up one of your most valuable resources.  On the same token, don't respond to an ID question unless you have something to add to the conversation.  Some forums have been reduced to voting (yes, VOTING!) on ID's even after a knowledgeable birder has already chimed in.  Fucking mind-blowing.  Many of the better birders have left the general ID forums for this reason, and it's turned into a "blind leading the blind" situation.

While this photo is identifiable (Green-tailed Towhee), most photos of this quality are useless, annoying, and a waste of everyones time.
5. Know your birds.  This is just simple and it applies to every one of the above topics.  Nobody's saying that you need to understand subspecies distribution or anything like that, but every interaction would be greatly improved if you had a general knowledge of expected species in relation to time and space.  Get a field guide, find a local bird checklist, anything to help you understand what you should be seeing when.

This is not a lovely photo in and of itself, however a simple understanding of species distribution shows that a Calliope Hummingbird is a pretty damn good for many parts of the country.
6. House Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbird.  Learn them.  Especially the females and juveniles.  No two birds have stumped beginning birders more than these two.  There is no shame in it.  But figure that shit out.  People are sick of seeing those things all over the internet.

7.  Follow the fucking rules.  This should be a no brainer.  Every forum has a moderator or owner that has set up rules.  Look at them.  They are there for a reason.  These forums are not some government non profit; they are set up by individuals to help birders communicate.  Nobody owes you anything, so don't huff and puff and storm out because someone draws attention to the fact that you're fucking up the forum by violating the rules.

Ta-da!  That's it.  You're done.  Follow these simple steps, and you won't be met with eye rolls and quiet grumblings by local birders you meet in the field.  You may actually have the opportunity to be a constructive member of your community and not some faceless asshole whose reputation is quietly torn down before it ever gets built up.

12 comments:

  1. NUMBER 8!!!!!!!! Holy shit. If I have to see another picture of a damn female Red-winged Blackbird asking "what kind of sparrow is this" I'm going to reach through my computer and choke someone.

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  2. I rather like that towhee photo.

    I wish there was more drama on the OR and WA birding listservs, but there's just not. It's all rather polite. The last time something REALLY angered me on there was during the big Snowy Owl irruption year when people were tearing a 13 or 14-year-old birder kid to shreds over accidentally flushing one. A kid! Ooh still angers me.

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    1. Yea, you should join the TX LISTSERV just for amusement. About once a month, it breaks down into some Jerry Springer bullshit.

      I'll send you a framed print of that GTTO.

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  3. I'd add Savannah Sparrow into that "always confuses the shit out of everyone" camp. People think sparrows are hard. They really aren't too bad, because every confusing sparrow is a Savannah Sparrow.

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    1. Hahaha. Excellent point. We need to start compiling these into one go to reference.

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    2. I thought every confusing sparrow was a Song Sparrow. (Great post, Nate!)

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  4. Brilliantly written, vocabulary and all. Rule # 1 is gold!

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  5. i'll never look at a OCWA the same.

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  6. hehe he he...Aunt Sally in Wisconsin...

    Brilliant stuff man

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  7. Natie- years ago, I wrote to Donald Freiday- If you ever get to Rockport, as on a trip or as a birding team, you should spend a lot of time in the sky, as Northern goshakws can be observed soaring. Do not point this out to the birders of Texas, of your observations and knowledge of this species- let the Texas birders stew in their ignorance, and let them try and argue toward accipiter identification. Also- Mr. David Sarkozi- owner of Texas Birding Listserv- and member of the Rare Bird Committee- My moniker for him is Mr. Tzar- kozi.

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  8. Natie- About the birders of Texas. Have you heard the expression: You are what you eat. But what if you don't eat something, but just let it sit in your mouth, and then tongue it and gum it? Does that mean: You are what YOU SUCK?! Nelson Briefer- goshawk specialist.

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