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***
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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


  1. If you have your alerts set, you will get alerts from eBird whether or not the bird has been confirmed. There's still a lag time (hour or two), but if you don't know how else to get the word out to locals, this will work!
    A lot of folks need the suggestions you posted here - thanks for taking the time to compile them. Nancy M

    1. I didn't know that about eBird! Only problem with that system is that it would be easy for someone to hit the wrong species in the checklist. I certainly don't want to run after a rarity that hasn't been verified!

    2. The alert is tagged Confirmed or Unconfirmed, but if there are photos attached to the checklist... Fun stuff!

  2. If we are being slightly tongue in cheek, please accept this post in the same spirit. Dorian, in this post you are letting your age show, and by that I mean YOUNG. Fist of all I agree with 90% of what you are saying.
    However, I don't know about you, but I meet birders out in the field all the time, especially the older ones, who do not use social media at all. You can count me in that crowd. There are many advantages of staying clear of those platforms, but, of course, being able to post instantly from the field is not one of them. One could belong to NARBA for a cost too. Additionally, some birders, perhaps of the same generation, restrict their data minutes on their cell phones, ( if they have one to start off with ) , to save money. How did we exist as birders before the the cell phone era, and still get intel on rare birds out there in a timely fashion? I guess the good old public telephone served in a pinch, or you just waited till you got home and then got the word out using phone trees, and, of course, more recently on line. Actually, those times were actually not that long ago. I know I am sounding like a codger, but there are still lots of us out there for a while longer anyway. Cheers, Thor

    1. You're right Thor. I certainly take much of the technology to which I alluded for granted. It didn't even cross my mind that some people, particularly those older than myself, might not be as familiar, reliant, or even dependent on social media as my younger cohort. Your point is well taken in that respect. My generation often forgets that there was life before cell phones and that people somehow managed to communicate rare birds even back in those prehistoric ages! You don't sound at all like a codger, just someone with a different experience than my own. Hell, I fell like a dinosaur compared to 25 year olds these days. I can't keep up with all the apps they use for various things. It's overwhelming!