Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Owl (of the Burrowing Variety)

Busy times necessitate laconic blog posts. This is one of those times, but please don't mistake it for lack of interest/character/heart on my part.

This is a Burrowing Owl. People like owls. Dig.

And for good measure, here's some video.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Without Wigeon, With Wren

Bear with me, this is going somewhere...

In the first three weeks of this year, there have been about three sunny days. This Winter Wren and I crossed paths on one of those days.

So, I've been friends with my best friend since I was 15. He's probably the most consistent thing in my adult life. He's the one who was there when I went through the worst shit in my life, and I was there next to him when he went through his. I love him. I kind of hate him too, but only in that way that you have to kind of hate the things you love. Until today, I hadn't seen my friend for 6 weeks or so. That's too long, and it's my fault because I'm too lazy to drive to south Austin. Anyways, I was feeling like kind of a dick so I called him this afternoon to have lunch. Plans were made. And then, as soon as I hit "end call" on my phone (the phone was still in my fucking hand), an RBA text came through. "Eurasian Wigeon - Lake Creek Trail" Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Cactus Wren is extremely restricted in Travis County. It's not an inner circle bird, but you've got to know.

What do you do? What's more important to you? Flaking on my friend 30 seconds after making plans would go over like a fart in church. Plus, the bird would still be there, right? It's not like it was just touching down for a drink for a minute. So, I went to lunch. And, it was great. One of those friends that helps you remember who you are. Super important, Good for the soul. All that. But, I have to admit that Wigeon was in the back of my head. So we eat, walk around, shoot the shit, and then I leave. Not two minutes after I left, I got another RBA text. "E Wigeon took off." Balls. And it was not seen again. People were looking at all the ponds in the area. Nothing. Again: Balls. And that's why we are where we are. No regrets. Friends>birds.

Rock Wren is another tough bird in Travis, although it seems that lately, some have been at Mansfield Dam. If they stick, it may save about 30 minutes on this years Big Day.

So, in lieu of a Eurasian Wigeon (a bird police bird in TX), here are wrens. Wrens have been exceedingly accommodating to me in recent weeks.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

An R2 Without A Notch

Birding is hard. We know this. But how hard does it get? Gulls are hard. Empids are hard. Have you ever looked the the Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding? It's a book that all birders should own, but that shit is depressing. You read through a whole section and at the end you see that many birds "may be simply unidentifiable unless they can be examined in the hand." Balls. Anyways, one of the more difficult complexes in North American birding is the Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird complex. As I'm fairly certain that most readers of this blog are familiar with selasphorus hummingbirds, I'm not going to dive into the differences between the two. Just know that in central Texas, Allen's Hummingbird is close to grail bird status. You know they vagrate here, but they are very, very rarely identified.

As great as that green back looks, it doesn't count for shit until you see the tail.
So, we're doing a collaborative photographic big year in Travis County, and I'm the dumbass who's compiling it. We'll touch on that in another post. Anyways, people have been sending me pictures for the big year. Last week, I got a photo of a green-backed subadult male selasphorus. Ding! The pictures only showed the bird perched on a feeder, so there were no spread tail shots, but the percentage of Rufous Hummingbirds with a green back is ridiculously low (people say 5% but after some reading, I think it's even lower than that.) The folks were cool with me coming out to try and get tail shots, so I went Thursday evening and failed. Then I went Friday evening, and failed again. Saturday was nasty, so I went with two friends on Sunday, and it finally happened. I had been trying to shoot video and grab stills from it, but what finally worked was cranking up the shutter speed and ISO and firing off like 20 shots when the bird flew up to the feeder.

So, here's a video of what I was trying to get. The video is slowed down to half speed.

At first, I was taking video and trying to grab stills. That didn't work, as you can see here.


I finally got smart (thanks to my buddy Sam) and started firing off shots. They're still shit, but they were diagnostic.

This was the clincher.

And here's another video of the bird.

So, yeah. That's the story of how I got my Travis County Allen's. Good bird. Good times.

Also yes, that is the bird taking a dump in the first video. And yes, the still has been added to the Birds Taking Dumps page.

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.