Speaking of bird watching…

Who says they’re an odd lot? I follow a newsgroup at the large university in this town, aptly called "Birders @….edu" (I have to keep this all anonymous because they will come after me if word one of this gets out). Here’s a recent post, in it’s entirety:

There was a posting about "owling etiquette" that in my view should have been a private posting to the person responding to rather than a posting to a service such as umich-birders.  It stated that it was accepted "owling etiquette" "in this area" not to post the locations of specific kinds of owls.  As the posting was generalized, I feel a need to respond. As someone who regularly posts and runs a rare bird alert, blanket surpression of wintering owl locations  has not been the practice in Michigan or the Midwest in general and as for me, I will continue to post, where appropriate, the locations of owls.  Maybe in Maryland the posting of owl locations just isn’t done and if that is the case, my deepest sympathies to those birders unfortunate to have to bird in that state.

There is no family of birds that birders are more interested in seeing than owls from my experience and winter birding in this part of the world often revolves around owl reports-when they are around.  Look at the list servers for places like Ontario, Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota for examples of this. Why the fascination with owls?  I am sure that there are many reasons but high on the list, if not normally verbalized, is the 95% of birders would never find say, a Long-eared Owl or Saw-whet Owl on their own.   Think about it.  How many of you on this list serve have found one of those two species in a place where you were not given directions to?  The only chance the vast majority of birders have of seeing these species is going to places which someone, presumably breaching "owling etiquette" has disclosed.  For Boreal Owl make that percentage 99.9%.

Now that being said, are there ever any occasions where I would view disclosing the bird’s location as inappropriate?  Of course there will be exceptions to disclosure but that would not be because it is an owl but because of the same sort of considerations that would apply to any bird sighting that could draw a crowd-could be on private property where permission hasn’t been granted for access; it could be at a nest where rules of engagement could not be fashioned to allow reasonable access to the bird-whatever. Also in my mind the person who finds the bird has somewhat of a proprietary interest in the bird and can decide whether to disclose its location or not.  If you subscribe to "owling etiquette" I am sure that means you won’t be disclosing the locations and that’s fine. I assume that means they won’t go to see owls that others have disclosed the locations to as well because that would only encourage breaches of "owling etiquette".

With some bird sighting that are going to draw a crowd there will need to be rules of engagement setting bounds on how birders can try to see the bird. This could involve for example  the time of day to see the bird or setting a limit on how close to get to the bird’s preferred location.  This is not for the safety of the bird-the bird could care less.  It has bigger worries like finding food and  not being food itself for predators etc. Rhetoric notwithstanding, birders, even ill-tempered ones,  are not a threat to birds.  Rules of engagement are for the benefit of other birders who may want to come and see the bird at a later time and that falls under the heading of courtesy, not ethics.

Baldly stating that birders could threaten the "safety of owls" if the owl’s location in winter is known is anthropomorphic nonsense.  What is the worst case scenario?  The owl or owls flush and find a new roost where they would likely  go undetected. Also that would only apply to Long-eareds as Saw-whet and Boreal Owls almost never flush short of being pushed off their perches-a technique I have yet to hear ascribed to even the vilest of imaginery birders. Sure, owls have been shot, but not by birders.  On the contrary, having birders around may decrease the chance of locals shooting them.  Rod Plank once  saw someone shoot a Great Gray Owl on Sugar Island.  Rod went so far as to report the guy and  testify against the guy at a trial (a local jury acquitted the shooter).

Lake Erie Metro Park is "Exhibit A" as why the concern about disclosing the location of Long-eared Owls in winter as a blanket rule is baseless.  Hundreds, if not thousands of birder’s lives have been enriched by seeing these birds over the course of five years or so (a guess-don’t hold me to it).  If those who preach "Owling etiquette" had their way, none of this would have happened because the location of these owls would not have been disclosed in the name of protecting the  safety of the owls.   Nonsense.  The owls are still there (except for the ones eaten by Horned Owls) and I will wager they, or their offspring, will be there next winter as well in case someone from Maryland wants to come and see them. That does not mean that if I saw someone off the trail trying to see (or more likely, to photograph) the owls  at Lake Erie Metro Park, I would not remind them to say on the trail.  I would.  This is a situation.  not to mention park rules I assume, where courtesy to other birders dictates staying on the trail. I will be annoyed by having that person getting off the trail and potentially preventing me from seeing the bird but I will also try to keep in mind the bigger picture-even that behavior is not going to harm the bird, rhetoric nowithstanding.

I could go on but I will save that for rebuttal if necessary.
Farmington Hills, Mi.

Frankly, I think this qualifies as a Bloggin For Books entry and, if I can figure a way to work it into whatever subject Jay and Kim over at ZeroBoss come up with I might just plagerize and enter it.
Fine writing skills, great grammer and such passion for the subject matter! Okay- here’s the really appalling part: this guys email address indicates that he works for the Department of Justice- seriously, it’s his name @usdoj.gov. Patti, in BCMA, speculates that he is not married and he sits on the bench.

Sophie and I are going to go fill the feeders (or bait the feeders, depending on your perspective).

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