ABA Birder’s Guide Magazine

13147854_1112297072147158_6121386051175132453_oI was contacted last year to contribute an essay to the ABA’s Birder’s Guide to Conservation & Community (the link seems to work from my phone but not from my laptop) on the subject of being a woman and/or young birder in a community made up mostly of men, and increasing female leadership in birding. I’d like to thank my friend Jody Allair at Bird Studies Canada for suggesting me as a contributor.

You can read the “sneak peak” for the issue here, see the table of contents here, and join the conversation on the subject at the ABA blog here. There’s also an article on starting young as a birder which I’m looking forward to reading.

I was honoured to be asked and to have my thoughts added to this publication along with so many influential women birders — Shanin Abreu, Elsa Alvear Rodríguez, Megan Crewe, Shawneen Finnegan, Melissa Hafting, Alvaro Jaramillo, Kimberly Kaufman, J. Drew Lanham, Maureen Leong-Kee, Ann Nightingale, Debi Shearwater, and Lili Taylor.

You can read all of the articles at the American Birding Association’s website (again, the link seems to work from my phone but not from my laptop at the moment), or in your printed copy if you are a member of the ABA.

Book Review: Birding For the Curious

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There are a lot of volumes geared toward new birders, but Nate Swick’s first book, Birding for the Curious: The Easiest Way for Anyone to Explore the Incredible World of Birds, is perhaps the only book ever written for non-birders. This is the perfect book for gardeners, armchair naturalists, and others who find themselves considering birding as a hobby.

Nate’s knowledge and enthusiastic style makes birding seem very easy and appealing for non-birders. while the book is intended for adults, it would also be the perfect book for older kids. While Nate is an experienced birder who writes at his The Drinking Bird blog, is the editor for the American Birding Association’s blog, and is a contributor for the 10,000 Birds blog, his new book offers is a very gentle introduction, an easy and unintimidating first step, to birding.

The book has 10 chapters, which covers such subjects as using a field guide, choosing binoculars, the basics of identifying birds, and citizen science. The chapters aren’t very long, but the information provided is solid and very useful. Each chapter has at least one “activity”, such as going on a bird walk or learning how to pish.

Nate is a big user and advocate of eBird and writes about it in the book, even devoting two “activities” to learning how to submit sightings to, and finding birds with, eBird. However, he mentions only one birding app (BirdLog), and while I do understand that new apps are being released all the time (and others are going through changes), the book could have benefited from a list of basic birding apps that would be helpful to new, especially younger birders.

The book has a few photographs as well as watercolour illustrations. The latter are fairly unusual for books of this nature. But I think they work well with the subject and also with Nate’s style of writing, encouraging the reader to pick up a field guide and learn more about birds.

As an entry level birding book, Birding for the Curious is an excellent choice anyone looking for a gentle introduction to a hobby that is a passion for so many of us. The book is available as a hardcover (which is perfect for schools and libraries) and as an eBook, which makes it very portable. This would make an excellent gift for the beginning or young birder in your life.

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Thank you very much to Page Street Publishing for providing me with a review copy.

Peterson Guide to Owls

IMG_0964Last week’s mail was very bird-themed*, in part because I received a copy of the new Peterson Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean by Scott Weidensaul, sent by my good friend Ray from the radio show, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds.

(If you’re not familiar with Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds, it’s a live radio show from Massachusetts about birds, birding, and conservation. The show airs Sundays at 9:30 am (Eastern time). You can listen live from anywhere in the world through the WATD website. If you can’t listen live, all of the past shows are available on the website and iTunes. If you’re looking for a birding show or podcast to listen to, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds is excellent and you might even win a Droll Yankees feeder for their Mystery Bird contest!)

I just had time to page through the book quickly, and noted some very good photos of owls by a number of photographers, including from my friend Christian Artuso in Manitoba (Christian has a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, did his thesis on Eastern Screech-Owls, and is the Manitoba Program Manager for Bird Studies Canada). I’m hoping to read the book and write a review before the end of this month.

Thank you for the great book, Ray! Some readers might remember that I had the incredible opportunity to meet Ray and the Talkin’ Bird’s crew one year ago this month when I traveled with my father to Washington, DC to be a part of Ray’s 500th episode. For the past year, I’ve also been part of the show with a “Charlotte’s Weblog” segment every other week, which includes my sightings from here in Alberta as well as information for young birders and naturalists.

*Also in the mailbox: the latest issue of BirdWatch Canada from Bird Studies Canada, the Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy from the American Birding Association, and two new digiscoping adapters!

Interview with Jeff Gordon, Baillie Birdathon celebrity guest birder

This year’s celebrity guest birder for the Bird Studies Canada annual Baillie Birdathon is Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding AssociationI’m very pleased to give you today my interview with Jeff, especially during what is a very busy time of year for him with travelling, ABA presidential duties, and spring migration

Jeffrey watching the annular solar eclipse near Bernalillo, New Mexico, May 2012 photo by Liz Gordon

Jeffrey watching the annular solar eclipse near Bernalillo, New Mexico, May 2012; photo by Liz Gordon

You can find Jeff’s Baillie Birdathon page here; his Birdathon goal is $15,000!

Prairie Birder: Please tell us about yourself.

Jeff: I’ve been interested in nature, especially wildlife since I was a tiny kid. I didn’t catch the birding bug until I was 12, but I caught it hard. When I was a young birder myself there weren’t young birder clubs or social media, but I still managed to find a lot of support and mentoring through organizations like the Delmarva Ornithological Society and the Delaware Nature Society. One of the things I liked best about birding at that age was that in just a year or two, I could hold my own with the adult birders and really make a contribution to the group. Now, I’m not saying that I was as good or as seasoned as the long-time birders. But I was sharp enough to pick things out and add something. One of the things I like best about birding is that it’s truly an all-ages, lifelong activity in a way that few things are.

I went to college at two schools: the University of Delaware and Earlham College in Indiana. While at Earlham, I spent a trimester in Kenya as part of a field study program, which was the single most educational experience of my education, if you will.

After college, I worked at places like Acadia National Park in Maine and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas before landing my dream job of being a bird tour leader, with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. I did that for 12 years and thoroughly enjoyed showing people wonderful birds and places and sharing the experience with them. It was an amazing gig.

I then spent a few years freelancing in the birding industry, writing for BirdWatcher’s Digest and Houghton Mifflin, speaking, working birding festivals for Leica Sport Optics, as well as a stint managing a nature center in southern Delaware. During that time, I was involved peripherally but significantly with the American Birding Association, helping with their conventions and chaperoning many of their youth birding teams.

In late 2010, I took the job of President of the ABA. Hard to believe it’s been almost four years, but it also still feels very fresh and new.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to make a career out of birding. I genuinely love the birding community, the amazing people who share this passion and zeal for birds and the outdoors. It’s a privilege to serve them.

PB: How did you get involved in the Baillie Birdathon?

Jeff: I was invited by the folks at Bird Studies Canada. It was a huge honor to be asked and even though it’s a particularly busy time of year, of course, there was no way I could turn down the offer!

PB: Where and when will your Birdathon take place? Is your wife Liz, an ABA staffer, going to be able to join you?

Jeff: I’ll be birding with Jody Allair and others on Saturday, May 10th, wherever he takes me in and around Port Rowan and Long Point [Ontario]. Though I’ve birded Rondeau and Pelee and all the birds will be familiar, this will be my first time around Long Point. Having heard so much about it for so many years, I’m very much looking forward to finally seeing it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for Liz to come this time.

PB: How much have you birded in Canada, in general, and at Long Point in particular?

Jeff: I’ve birded Canada more than any other country but the US. I’ve made something on the order of 10 trips each to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. I’ve been very fortunate to visit Nunavut multiple times, with two trips to Pond Inlet on Baffin Island and another to Wager Bay. I’ve visited the Vancouver region a couple of times, as I have the aforementioned Pelee/Rondeau area and have stayed a couple of nights in Ottawa. I also made a memorable November birding trip to Quebec. No Long Point, no PEI, no Alberta or Yukon. So I guess I would say that I’ve made a good scratch in Canada’s surface, but man, there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Celebrating seeing White-tailed Ptarmigan, ABA Camp Colorado, July 2013

Celebrating seeing White-tailed Ptarmigan, ABA Camp Colorado, July 2013

PB: Do you have a target number of species you’re hoping to see during your Baillie Birdathon?

Jeff: Jody tells me that a total of around 140 or so will be good for the Long Point area. As for target birds, I have no targets in the sense of lifers or near-lifers. But I’m very excited about getting to see and hear a bunch of old friends. And who knows what may turn up? My dream bird in the region would be a “Cory’s” Least Bittern, but I bet I’m not alone in that dream!

PB: Kenn Kauffman wrote a few years ago, just before you became president, that when the ABA first started (and when he first joined), “it served a unique role in connecting the active birders of the US and Canada”. Do you think this is still true? 

What would you tell Canadian birders in 2014 who want to know what the ABA can offer them?

Jeff: No question, yes, the ABA serves a unique role in connecting birders of the US and Canada. I think that role has evolved a lot over the nearly five decades of the ABA’s life and it continues to. Early on, there was a huge need for basic bird finding and identification information which has partially but not nearly wholly been filled by the internet. Of course, the ABA is still providing that information, too. Our Facebook Rare Bird Alert, to cite one small example, has a stellar track record of breaking news of ABA rarities. At this point, it’s the place to watch for this sort of info. Today, I see the ABA playing more of a role in being the center, or perhaps a center in this decentralized age, of birding culture and community. And I think we are THE center of birding culture. What it means and how best to go about being a birder — that’s right at the heart of what we’re about and that’s not true of any other North American organization, though there are a number that certainly do a great deal that is of value to birds and to birders. But as far as standing up and being counted as a member of the community of active, passionate birders? That’s the ABA.

For Canadians specifically, I think the ABA is unusual and worthwhile in that we define our core area of concern as the US and Canada. Right there, that encourages a shared vision and perspective. Of course, the ABA and its members’ interests extend beyond the ABA area, around the hemisphere and the globe. But there is an undeniable shared US/Canada outlook and community that the ABA fosters.

One thing I’d like to emphasize: we are always looking for Canadian content for our publications online and off. If you have stories to tell about birding Canada or birding as a Canadian, I guarantee they will get a fair hearing. Folks can email me at jgordon@aba.org and I’ll pass you along to the proper editor or manager.

Jeff co-leading, with ABA Board Member Carl Bendorf (just right of me wearing ABA cap), an Iowa Young Birders field trip,

Jeff, far left, co-leading a field trip with ABA Board Member Carl Bendorf (just to the right of Jeff, wearing the ABA cap) for the Iowa Young Birders Club. Photo by Helen Lindhorst.

PB: What sort of relationship is there, formal or informal, between the American Birding Association and Bird Studies Canada?

Jeff: Well, I hope that it’s a growing one. I’m doing the Baillie Birdathon this Spring and Jody Allair has an article about Bird Studies Canada that will be published later this month in our first-ever Birder’s Guide to Conservation and Community. So far, we don’t have any formal partnerships but I’m hoping to meet lots of folks and generate lots of ideas during my upcoming visit. I would also add that we all strongly suspect that many of the ABA’s Canadian members are also members of Bird Studies Canada and that offers natural opportunities for collaboration.

PB: How would you describe the differences in the various organizations: ABA, Bird Studies Canada, National Audubon Society, and even Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology?

Jeff: The ABA strives to inspire all people to enjoy and protect wild birds. We do that in a wide variety of ways and many of the other organizations you mention, all fine ones, overlap part of what we do. But I think one key difference is that the ABA is fundamentally in the business of promoting and supporting birding, where most other organizations emphasize birds, or conservation, and/or ornithology. Supporting birding is something they do to advance those ends. We support birding and we firmly believe it leads to good outcomes for birds, for habitat, and for society. We know it does for individuals. So while I see all these groups as having compatible and complementary goals, I think the ABA is the single place to register your identity and passion as a birder and to join a community of birders.

PB: What percentage of ABA members are Canadian? Are you looking to encourage membership from Canadian birders, and if so, how? 

Jeff: Our Canadian membership generally runs about 10-12 percent, which closely mirrors the population of the two countries. We are looking to encourage membership from all birders, but if you or anyone has suggestions for ways to better reach Canada, I’d be delighted to hear them. We also try to have representation on our board and committees that at least approaches that 10-12 percent benchmark. Currently, we do not have a Canadian board member, so please get in touch if you’re interested or know someone who might be.

PB: You became president of the ABA in 2010. Shortly before that, you wrote, “The question for ABA is whether it’s going to adapt and change and once again lead and inspire the birding community.” Since you became president, how has the ABA been adapting, changing, leading, and inspiring, in both the US and Canada?

Jeff: Hands down, the biggest “mechanical” change is that we’ve gone online and are active in many social media spaces. But that increased online presence has been in the service of an even more fundamental change — making ourselves more accessible and responsive to our members, as well as giving them a number of useful forums where they can exchange information and discuss issues. We’re also accomplishing a real shift, I think, where we full-heartedly embrace both the purely recreational aspects of birding and the more legacy-building, conservation impulse that nearly all birders feel. In the past, I think there’s been a tendency for something of a rift to appear there, at least part of the time. But I find that today, perhaps most especially with younger birders, it’s all seen as essential parts of a larger whole. Birding is and ought to be a big tent for many approaches, for people of all ages and types. I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made toward promoting that vision and making it a reality.

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Thank you, Jeff, for the opportunity to interview you and good luck on your Baillie Birdathon!

Spring birding and Stickers!

Spring has officially arrived after a long winter, but the weather is not very spring-like yet. in this part of Canada, nature is in charge, not the calendar! I haven’t been out birding lately because of school, practicing for our music festival, and a busy calving season, which has kept me busy.

A couple of days ago, I walked to our mail box about half a mile from our house where I was hoping a particular parcel would be waiting, and did some birding on the way. I saw a bunch of chickadees singing their Spring song, “hey sweetie”, one Downy Woodpecker, a number of Black-billed Magpies and House Sparrows, and a lone Canada Goose flying overhead. the new season is slowly but surely creeping in!

Some of the chickadee were shyer than others, but this one was very co-operative in letting me get close,

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The slough across the road from my house is still frozen solid, but in a couple of weeks it will be filled with thousands of geese,

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I found this nest, but I don’t know what species built it,

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Success at the mailbox! I was very excited to find my American Birding Association Bird of the Year stickers in the mail, and as usual and I immediately put them on my binoculars. This year, the Bird of the Year is the Rufous Hummingbird,

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YBY Unboxing

I was so excited to get my ABA Young Birder of the Year contest package in the mail on July 5th, just before we left for New York, so I thought I would do an “unboxing”.

Because I’m a first time participant, I received the National Geographic Field Guide To The Birds of North America, fifth edition* (I don’t have this guide, so it’s a nice addition to my bookshelf, though at around 500 pages not nearly as comprehensive as the two Sibley field guides, just under 500 pages each, but definitely more portable), a birder’s field notebook manual, and birder’s field notebook. I was also quite pleased to see that extra stickers for the ABA bird of the year were included,

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* There’s a more recent sixth edition, published in 2011, for anyone interested in buying a copy of the NG field guide.

Young Birder of the Year Contest and New Blog

This year, I decided I wanted to compete in the American Birding Association’s Young Birder of the Year Contest. It will be tight for time with other things I have to do, but I think I can do it. There are five modules to choose from. I’ve chosen to compete in four of the five categories, both two major modules, Field Notebook and Community/Conservation Action, and Photography and Writing as my supporting modules.

I had a difficult time deciding what I could do for my Community Action project as I must spend at least 40 hours on my project. If my Summer plans work out and I get to be away for part or all of August, I need a project I could work on from a distance. Fortunately, a project I’ve been thinking about for our local naturalist so club, to improve communication and hopefully  increase interest seems to be a good fit. I would also like to include posts to document the new pipeline activity about to start in the area, which I started writing about here.

I decided I would start a blog and Facebook group for my local naturalist society to let members know about field trips, meetings, wildlife, and conservation issues around our area, to stay in touch better and keep up with activities. And hopefully I’ll be able to interest some new members to join, especially since our numbers are dwindling.

Here is the blog, which I hope is of some interest even to readers who aren’t in our club who might live some distance away, and I’m planning to get the Facebook group up this weekend. I just published a post about native wildflowers and have one flower I could not ID, so if you know, please leave a comment!

Yellow Lady’s Slippers,

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