Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The (Un)Civil Wars: Texas Birding Takes to Facebook

We've touched on internet birding etiquette here before. As unfortunate as it is that a primer like that is even necessary, it is possibly more unfortunate that Facebook has even become such an integral factor in the dissemination of birding information. As far as birding goes, there are good things and bad about Facebook as an information medium. I'm not going to tell you that Facebook is not good at getting the word out about vagrants and rarities. Honestly, it is probably more efficient than listervs, and the bonus capability to immediately share photos is a big plus. There are also specific and relatively useful groups which have the potential to serve as a host to constructive discussion. Potential is a key word there. The problem is that Facebook can (and usually does) fall victim to the lowest common denominator conundrum. One weak link in the chain can fuck up the whole operation. The common result of this is a splintering of groups with new rules, moderators, etc. Let's look at Texas, where I follow five separate Facebook groups just to make sure I don't miss anything. Five groups. Five. That's kind of nuts. The reason for this is that birding looks like so many different things to so many different people. And, as most birders lack even the simplest of social graces, these differences are often not handled in the most constructive way. This all serves as a preamble to today's topic, The battles between two Texas birding Facebook groups: Birds of Texas and Crusty Birders of Texas.


"Love my birds! This cute little guy keeps me company on the park bench every morning! He loves crackers!"
For us to get a better understanding about the current state of turmoil in the Lone Star State, we need to go back to the beginning, to the Genesis of Texas birding on Facebook. Texbirds FB was a natural progression of Texbirds, the birding listerv of Texas (not without drama in its own right). Much like the listerv version, Texbirds FB was started as a forum to share information about Texas birding. Rare birds, extralimital species and subspecies, etc. It didn't take long, however, for the masses to begin to slather Texbirds FB with posts that were of little to no interest to the majority of Texas birders (blurry pictures of cardinals, ID requests of simple backyard birds, etc.) For a long time, these posts would often draw negative responses. Now, here's a fundamental thing to understand. Sure, seeing these things are kind of annoying; I'm not going to lie. Texbirds in itself, like any listserv, has one main purpose: to share information about rare or uncommon birds. That's it. To say anything else is to be kidding yourself. So when photos of cardinals started showing up on Texbirds FB, they would push the pictures of scoters down. And every time someone commented, "nice shot!" or "love my birds!", those scoters would go further and further down the page. It's the nature of Facebook.


"ID please. I think it's an Orange-crowned Warbler because of the orange on its head."
So this went on for a few years or so, everything being chill for a month before a poor new soul would join Texbirds, post a bad picture of an archilocus, and get blasted for it. Someone would comment about it not being appropriate to the group (sometimes kindly, sometimes not) and the poster would become defensive and aggressive, and it all went downhill. Out of this reciprocal vitriol, Birds of Texas was born. Birds of Texas (BOT) is a Facebook group specifically dedicated to the sharing of photos of Texas birds. Apparently there are a shitload of people that are into that. Good for them. Seriously. It is a good thing that Birds of Texas came about; it serves the needs of a community without impinging on the goals and objectives of another community. And then they lived happily ever after.

False. You know this. We wouldn't be here if that were the case. So, as much as Birds of Texas cut down on extraneous posts to Texbirds FB, a few blurry pictures and simple ID requests were still creeping through. These were met with the same responses and the same hateful cycle continued, only this time, the poster was eventually guided towards Birds of Texas, where they would almost always begin a spirited protest at the "bird snobs" over at Texbirds. Meanwhile, the members of Texbirds FB were being chastised for not being sensitive. It didn't take long for that dam to break, and a new group was formed, The Crusty Birders of Texas. At first a small group, the main goal was to vent and basically talk shit about what was going on over at Texbirds FB. Fair enough, right? My opinion is that if you post something to an online forum, you assume the risk that someone may not like what you posted and talk shit about you. I take that risk every time I write a blog post.


This is a different chat. Obviously, still a chat though, right?
Shit, this is longer than I thought. Time to wrap up. Anyways, Birds of Texas and Crusty Birders were going strong, each basically uninterested in each other. Meanwhile, Texbirds FB was still around and still having some of the same problems. And then there was the chat. Shit blew up because of the chat. So, here's what happened. Some lady posted a photo of a Yellow-breasted Chat to Texbirds FB asking for ID. This was a pretty good picture of a chat, a bird that doesn't really look like much else. So, there were some pretty innocuous comments before someone asked the question, "Do you own a field guide?" Seems pretty harmless to me, right? Well, it was received poorly. Extremely poorly. The original poster tore into the field guide commenter, as did many more members of Texbirds FB. He was getting attacked. I made the mistake of sticking up for him, in a pretty nice way, I think. I was attacked. "Nate, you are a jerk!" "Birds snobs suck!" Blah blah blah. Things like that. The lady even implied that my comments made her cry. Fucking ridiculous.


"Canvasback Duck - f/7.1, 1/1000 sec, ISO 4000, 400mm"
Anyways, since then these two groups have had monthly battles. What usually happens is that someone will post something on Birds of Texas that is seen my a member of Crusties. A lot of time it's a picture of a bird with some type of anthropomorphic commentary.  A lot of BOT members find that stuff cute. Personally, I find it intellectually offensive, but that's me. Crusties find it ridiculous, and often talk shit about those posts on the Crusty page. The Crusty page is public, so anybody can search it and see what's going on. So, BOT people will see it and get pissed off and a discussion will erupt on BOT about how horrible and mean-spirited the Crusties are. The Crusty bashing gets intense. A while back, the moderator of BOT figured out what was going on and made BOT a private group. Not only that, he started looking at the Crusty page and started kicking out anybody that was commenting on the Crusty page. Fair enough. So now there are apparently Crusty spies still in the BOT group, reporting back. It seems that it's just a matter of time before they are sniffed out and ejected from BOT.

Anyways, I'm not here to make judgements. Birds of Texas is great for what it is, and people love it. Crusties is great for what it is as well. They are just two groups with completely differing values and interests. But the drama....fuck, the drama is great. Every month or so, when the shit talking picks up, I get sucked down the Texas birding FB rabbit hole. It's awesome. Check that shit out, but only as an observer. It's a nasty battle, and I do not recommend becoming involved.

*Disclaimer  - I am not a member of Crusties. I am a member of BOT, because sometimes good birds get posted there and nowhere else.

13 comments:

  1. I belong to three Indiana FB groups, which when compared to the size of Texas in both area and population, seems even more insane. We have one group that is for the reporting of rare birds only. No other posts allowed, and not even comments on posts are allowed unless it is an update on the sighting. Shockingly, everyone seems to understand this. Then there is one for educational discussion of birds. Photos of cardinals are fine as long as you post where and when you saw it. You can't ask for an ID without at least stating what you think it is and why, which resources you are using (hint: it's usually Google images), and where the photo was taken. When there is bad blood, it is here, even though the group photo literally has the rules in it. Finally, there is the last group where people post pictures of House Sparrows wearing santa hats, videos of parrots talking, and inquiries asking "WHERE AROND MY CITY CN I GO C A SNOW OWL LOL???" This is also where people come to make fun of inane Listserv posts, which is the reason I follow. I feel like if you are a birder with an internet presence, you have to have at least some deep-seeded appreciation for our ridiculous drama, which is why I just wrote a blog-length comment on a blog post about internet birding drama. Well played.

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  2. I don't think Oregon has any kind of facebook group but if it does, I am happily oblivious. You kind of make Texans sound like a bunch of whiny babies. Everyone should get the fuck off facebook and go outside.

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  3. I love that you posted all of the photo information for your canvasback photo. As with other photos of such quality, I was very curious as to the specs of your equipment and shot, so I might emulate it in the future. I just love birds so much!!!!!!!!

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    1. Actually Laurence it is a canvasback duck photo. The duck is very important in the title of the photo you see, because without it the viewer may think that they are looking at a warbler or an heron.

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    2. Brenton, you are mean. I'm quitting this hobby or reading bird blogs and birding and will go do something else. That'll teach you the importance of niceness!

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  4. Well done. I think you have nicely captured the fractured state of TX bird reporting/socializing. When I scan through (which I still do on a regular basis) FB Birds of Texas, I think of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that has always wrung true to me: "“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother". That's what you need to do in that forum, except that there's a room full of grandmothers and they are going to overwhelm you with questions & polar opposite statements and often pretty much ignore what you say anyway. Every once in awhile, you can make a dent in what I see as "faith-based" bird identification and start to turn a few of them into more detail/field-mark oriented birders (which is what the crusties mostly complain about). But, it's a lot of work with as many steps backwards as forward, and thus, the frustration that the incorrectly coined "snobs" run into and go all crusty on in the end. It is incredibly amazing to me that there are a seemingly countless number of bird photographers out there who seem to have a virtually endless supply of photos, almost too many to even go through, that serve as an almost hourly/daily set of photo quizzes. It's a good place to learn even more about birds and I suspect a few crusties should likely hang out there more and remember back to the time when they would have fit right in (if in fact, they have moved beyond that stage).

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    1. I agree, Eric. I know that you are a mighty fine birder and I love the Einstein quote. I still remember sitting with my Golden Guide underneath a very obliging Black-shouldered Kite (as they were then called) and being terribly excited because it was the first raptor I could positively identify. It took 15 minutes looking and discussing with my 9 year old daughter. I had been reading my only field guide nightly, studying the maps and seasons and fieldmarks, but having never ever been on a bird walk even, it was unfocused and unsortable for me. It sounds so stupid now, but I really just wanted to pin down one GD hawky bird all by myself and this was the one. Finding a local Audubon site then was tough, as they were not in the phone book. New birders think anything is possible (how lovely) and why not an Amazon Kingfisher if it doesn't look like any of the other 3 possible? Anyway, I like both pages as they both make me roll my eyes at some posts, the snarky and the clueless. You DO feel like asking "Do you own a field guide?" often, but that shouldn't be taken as an unkind remark by the BOT folks. I honestly feel that beginning birders need the simplest of guides to just figure out if it's a sparrow or a warbler. Audubon's Guides first, Sibley later?

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  5. Nice summary Nate. I have for a while call Facebook "In-your Facebook". Seems that society seems to hold more on the "it's all about me" and don't screw with me, my family or my friends. Etiquette, civility, and following rules is not the norm at least it seems that way. Overall I think the majority of birding folks and photographers (or both) are good people and don't stoop down. It's just the few that make the birding world suck.

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  6. Nate, good job covering the fractions in Texas FB birding. An assumption is made my some birders that ALL birders should be helpful and kind to new birders. Altruistic and not always the easiest thing to do for ALL birders. Some birders have forgotten their humble beginnings or just enjoy a good laugh at some crazy birding mistakes. Who hasn't IDed a Mockingbird or female RWBB as something exotic at first glance? I think some the Crusty site is good for venting and laughing, it's too bad about the screen shots though. If you are on BOT and new, don't go to Crusty birds. And don't spy on them, it will only cause hurt feelings when you repost stuff.

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  8. Btw. I had no idea what anthropomorphic meant until I googked it. So that makes me unfunny AND stupid. Fuuuuuck. Talk about intellectually offensive. Off to go kill myself! xo

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