Sunday, February 26, 2017

Post #93 - When life hands you lemons, go birding. Plus a GREAT OPPORTUNITY for reader participation!

This post is coming to you live and direct from Spain! I've now been here for 6 days and have enjoyed every minute of it. I promise a full recap when I return, but for now I want to focus on an episode that happened en route to my current Spanish surrounds. 

Birding Spain
11 Little Bustards flew into the field just after the photo!

Almost unbelievably, there isn't a single direct flight from Los Angeles to Madrid, so I was forced to connect in Dallas to an overnight flight to my final destination. However, my flight out of LAX was delayed by more than 2 hours due to weather, and I missed my connecting flight (I know, a weather delay in SoCal, right?!!?). The path of least resistance was to accept a seat on the same flight the following night and kill the intervening day in Dallas. I sure as hell wasn't happy about losing a day in Spain, but I didn't really have any other option.

With ~20 hours kill in Texas, I rented a car at the airport, and, the following morning, set of for some suburban birding at Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA). I chose that particular spot so that I could have a late lunch with a childhood friend before returning to the airport. En route to that locale, I hit a local supermarket to grab a few snacks to get me through the morning. I ended up with two bananas and a box of granola bars. Upon removing the first of the granola bars from the box, this is what I found.

For those that might not be able to read the tiny text, it says, "Chewy Challenge #7: Go bird watching. How many different birds can you find?" I found it an all-too-appropriate way to begin my day of birding in Dallas. I have since dispatched the following note to Quaker customer service. 

Dear Quaker

My name is Dorian Anderson, and I am a life-long fan of your Chewey Granola bars. I am also a life-long bird watcher. This past week, I was stranded in Dallas for 24 hours as I missed a connecting flight to Spain where I was to spend the next 10 days - you guessed it - bird watching. With a day to kill before my rescheduled flight, I decided to do some bird watching around Dallas. En route to Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA,, I purchased a box of your tasty Quaker Chewy peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars. I removed the first bar from the box and appropriately found a note on the wrapper that stated, "Chewy Challenge #7: Go bird watching. How many different birds can you find?".

Well, in the following 4 hours I found exactly 60 species of birds at LLELA ( Beyond touting my love for your product, this note is to serve as a request that Quaker donate $300 ($5/species) to LLELA for my completion of the stated bird watching challenge. LLELA does much environmental education, and I think any additional funds that the park/organization receives would be helpful in inspiring future generations of bird lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

I have also posted a copy of this letter on my very popular bird watching and bird photography blog, The Speckled Hatchback ( The blog is widely read by both American and foreign birdwatchers. It was because of the successes of this blog that I was invited to Spain as a guest of the Extremadura Tourism Board, a region of Spain with wonderful birdlife that is looking to increase its visibility in the American birding community.

Yes, I understand this is all a bit strange, but, at the end of it all, I'm only asking Quaker to help an organization with which I have zero connection. Doing so would be a great gesture on your part and would certainly warrant a follow-up post on my blog that further touts your products as a tasty, healthy snack for birders and other persons on the go.

Thank you so much for your consideration of this matter. I look forward to your response.

Dorian Anderson, Ph.D.

Birder, Photographer, Writer, Blogger, Lecturer

Now we wait. Sure, I missed my flight and lost a day in Spain, but, with the help of birding, I still managed to find something positive in the entire experience. That's the beauty of birding. It's always there for you no matter what else goes wrong.

Oh yeah, if anyone else feel particularly motivated to follow up with Quaker and prod them about my donation request, you can use this link and copy and paste the below message into your comment to them. You never know, right? It'll take 2 minutes and could make for a great story if they actually follow through!

Dear Quaker

This note is to serve as follow up note to that from Dorian Anderson regarding a $300 donation to the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area. I fully support his request and hope that Quaker is able to help the center provide outdoor education for young school children moving forward.


(Your name here)

***Click images for higher resolution views***
Loads more at my Instragram Account

Los Angeles County, California
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Post #92 - Guidelines for posting rare bird sightings to public message boards, social media, and such....

Sorry for the lag between posts, but between my last day in my research lab at USC yesterday and leaving for Spain in a few hours, it's been incredibly hectic around her this past week! This trip to the Extramadura Region is going to be amazing, so please do stay tuned for a full report when I get back.

Here's where I'm headed

Here's a short video about the festival I'm attending

In other non-fake news, I'll be headed to Belize and Guatemala from March 9-18, so please keep that on your radar as well. 

So, Sonia and I were cruising around doing some errands recently and somehow the topic of birding message boards came up. During the conversation, Sonia said, "There's no way, even if was 100% sure of a rare bird, that I would EVER post it. I'd be WAY too scared. The whole message board thing is so intimidating!" I was so intrigued by this comment that I figured I would use it as a blog topic. I am hoping that this precipitates comments/discussion, so please chime in with your own thoughts in the comments section.

There isn't a written set of rules on how to post bird sightings to public message boards and rare bird alerts, but I'll offer a few suggestions based on my own experiences. Much of this is tongue-in-cheek, so please keep that in mind. He's a Cinnamon Teal to get us started.

***Click images for higher resolution views***
Loads more at my Instragram Account

Cinnamon Teal - Anus cyanoptera
Orange County, California
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II +1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld

Be concise
Just tell us what you bird(s)saw and where you saw it/them. We really, really don't need, "Our intrepid group of 12 birding souls arrived at Plum Island at 7am. Weather on that Saturday was cloudy, a light wind blowing from the north. It was reminiscent of the winter of 1927......." and so on and so forth. GET TO THE POINT. Many birders read posts on the fly, so brevity is important. A bird post is not the place to exercise your latest and greatest prose. 

Do capitalize birds names
Again, please make it easy on readers. CAPITALIZATION makes bird names stand out from the surrounding text. This is particularly important if you post in the verbose style discouraged above. If you're going to torture readers by writing a novel, make THE BIRDS standout, particularly if it is a rare bird in which there will be a lot of interest. Contrarily, capitalizing HOUSE SPARROW (or even posting about it, for that matter), is grounds for a swift kick to the ass.

Do not use 4-letter codes without defining them
Though convenient, a significant proportion of birders do not understand the 4-letter code convention. Take the 2 seconds to write out the full name. If you wish to use the 4-letter code, please define it after first using the full name. "I saw a Varied Thrush (VATH) in a tree. The VATH ate a berry and then took a dump." See, its that easy. But, please avoid being a 4-letter wise guy "I saw a Ruff (RUFF) at the pond. There was also a Sora (SORA) present." Doing so would make you a PUNK.

If you don't understand the 4-letter code thing, it's just a way to make recording birds sightings easier. It comes from a bird-banding shorthand. Information on the coding nomenclature can be found here.

Here's a rarity that we'd want to hear about!
Fork-tailed Flycatcher - Tyrannus savana
Lyme, Connecticut (Oct 2013)
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 7D
1/1600 at f/7.1, ISO 320, handheld

Post rarities ASAP
Birding in the 21st century moves fast. Posting from the field will allow others to keep up. If you wait until 10pm to post that you saw a Spoonbill Sandpiper at Bolsa Chica at 9am, then you can expect a midnight visit from the birding mafia. You might even wake up with a broken spotting scope in your bed. Learn to post from the field as that will benefit everyone. It is also worth noting although eBird is great for documenting sightings, it is NOT the preferred method to disseminate sightings quickly. If you find a rare bird and you create an eBird checklist to reflect this, it could take hours or even days for the moderators to review the sightings and make it public. Online rare bird alerts of various sorts (message boards, Facebook, Twitter) should thus be used in addition to eBird. If all else fails, you can always call someone who can make a quick post on your behalf.

Add a photo if possible
This is difficult to do using traditional email groups but easy to do on Facebook and other social media platforms. If you find a rare bird and have a camera with you, take a photo of it and then take a photo of the bird on the camera's display screen and post that. That way we have some hard evidence of the sighting before people start rushing towards it.

Go ahead and post if you're not 100% sure of the ID, but make sure to say that you're not sure

"I saw a Yellow-green Vireo" is different than "I saw a bird that looked like a Yellow-green Vireo." It's worth letting others know what you're thinking if you are reasonably sure that you saw something rare.

Give specific directions
We've all been lazy/guilty of the "previously reported location" offense at some point. This posting default is generally useless and functions to send readers scurrying through older posts to as they try to find more specific details. We've all benefited from nice, precise descriptions of rare bird locations, so please go ahead and return the favor to others.

Refrain from posting about ridiculously common stuff
Yes, that Northern Cardinal on your feeder is beautiful, but so are the 15 that I saw in my local patch that same day. There needs to be some kind of line drawn so that message boards aren't cluttered up with sightings of common birds. I think most birders understand this, but a few have been known to abuse public access to boards.

Don't make it personal
As amusing as I find message board personal feuds, try to refrain from attacking others. I know it's rare (and it is really funny when it does happen), but please remember that once you hit the send button, it's a done deal.

OK, that's it for the moment. I am very curious to see what I have missed. I'd love to hear from you about what you like about message and even more about what drives you crazy. I think it would be a good laugh for everyone.

Here's one that probably won't set message boards on fire....
American Pipit - Anthus rubescens
Orange County, California
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II +1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld

Monday, February 6, 2017

Post #91 - Upset of the century - Northern Shoveler beats out Emperor Goose!?!?!?

A few administrative notes before we get rolling!

First, I am super stoked to announce that I have partnered with Zeiss as part of their Prostaff program! I've been using their amazing Victory SF binoculars for just over a year now (I love them), and I am very happy to promote all of their optics moving forward. Interestingly, I have a connection to Zeiss that goes far beyond birding as I've been using Zeiss microscopes in a scientific research capacity for the better part of 2 decades. My current CRISPR protocols have been greatly aided by the Zeiss scope on which I create my transgenic (genetically engineered) animals. It's great to be working with an optics company with which I have so much personal history!

Second, I have finally started an Instragram account and would love to have you follow along. This is going to be strictly for birding and travel purposes and won't be diluted with any irrelevant content. I've loads to share, so please get on-board, stat. Here's the sort of stuff that's already waiting for you!

Great Gray Owl - Strix nebulosa
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (-10F!)
Canon 500mm f/4 IS on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/320 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld
***click all images for higher resolution views***

I am also trying to drive traffic toward my flickr account, so - if you're on that platform - I'd really appreciate it if you follow me there as well. It's actually quite important that I build a presence on both of these photography platforms, so thank you for helping me do that.

OK, when we think about the greatest upsets of all time, we'll undoubtedly visit the USA ice hockey team beating the Russians in the 1980 Olympic semifinal. But what about when the Duke Blue Devils beat the then-undefeated UNLV Runnin' Rebels in the 1991 NCAA basketball championship? or Maybe James "Buster" Douglas knocking out a then-37-0 "Iron" Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990? Maybe it was Leicester City winning the Premier League title last year? But Northern Shoveler over Emperor Goose? I'll explain.

 "Miracle on Ice"

 On Tuesday, January 10th, an Emperor Goose appeared in Pacifica, just south of San Francisco. This species, which usually generally resides in the Bering Sea and nearby Aleutians, only rarely makes it to the lower 48 states. When it does, usually along the Washington, Oregon, and Northern California Coasts, it causes a predictable commotion in the birding community as folks mobilize to chase the wayward bird. However, this individual caused no such initial buzz. Why? Because it took 2 full weeks for the photographs of the "strange goose" on a local golf course to reach someone who could recognize it for what it was! When that finally happened, on January 24th, the expected all-hell broke loose, and birders rushed towards Pacifica with hopes of seeing the rare goose. That day was a Tuesday, and as such I was glued to the Zeiss microscope as above described. The bird stuck around through the week, and on Friday I prepared for a 6-hr chase that I hoped would at least partially redeem the derailed Ross's Gull chase of two weeks prior. As a final preparation, I checked the weather. It was going to be crystal clear up and down the California Coast. Seeing that, I quickly cancelled my chase.

What the heck, what gives? Why would perfect weather make me abandon my chase? Well, we've had an unusually wet winter here in Southern California, and, as a result, many recent weekends have been either rainy or cloudy. This has prevented the sort of naturally lit, color-saturated photography that I generally prefer. Looking at the forecast, I saw that my goose chase would cost me my best photographic opportunity in months, and I decided that I wanted to use the light to shoot rather than to drive. I had the previous week visited a spot with loads of active Northern Shovelers, and I thought that I could do some real photographic damage on them if I just had the right light. It was in favor of this plan that I abandoned my goose pursuit, and that's how the common duck beat out the rare goose. I think I made the right decision. I saved a ton of gas (and $) and had a really relaxing 2 morning's worth of shooting. I just hope I can get Emperor Goose in its normal range if I ever make it to Alaska. Incidently, the bird is still present. Maybe it will stay until the first week of March when Sonia and I go to SF to find an apartment.

Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld

Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld

Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, handheld