Some Compensation

Today I was out with Claude, it continued cold so we went and stood in an open area of Ontario looking for the Gyr Falcon (yes, I know that is not how eBird spell it, they are wrong), it steadfastly refused to join us. Common sense just nipped in before hypothermia and we headed off to Ottawa to search for an American Three-toed Woodpecker, which we also didn’t see, can you see a pattern developing here?

As the toothless budgie said, try, “try and you will suck seed” (it’s called poetic licence) and our little pause on Chemin Grimes got us this beauty, well a bunch of noisy crows did actually.

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It posed at the roadside before one of the few cars to use the road flushed it deep into a woodlot awaiting another house. Unfortunately Claude had missed the chance due to technical difficulties and it looked like a hat-trick of disappointment was to be his burden to bear, but no, we did a circuit of the road and on the opposite loop we found the owl again sat roadside. Enter a busy Canada Post person with a big red flushing van (I think that was the make). Fortunately the van stopped and I engaged the postie in conversation while Claude got his shots. Having enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame the owl promptly went back to teasing crows.

After a short tour of the scenic areas of Ottawa we returned via the fields of Casselman and found four Snowy Owls, a high count according to eBird, but in the real world, no not really.

Addendum – I was back yesterday with my friend Graham looking for the Gyr and peckers – no joy again but the roads were entertaining with jack-knifed trucks and people resting in the median. One delight was a Porcupine munching on branches in Ottawa.

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And now, after the pictures for those with a short attention span, are the comments relating in my piece about owl suppression. The first is from an Internet forum where somebody I don’t know has made comments on a forum that I don’t subscribe too.

I find the reasons he states, to be a bit bizarre, personally. If sightings are suppressed, then the number of people who find the owls is lessened. Less people, less disturbance. Less people, less of the ones that will choose to disturb them for a shot. More people, more bad apples that will do bad things to get good shots. It almost seems like he says what he does to find locations for his own purposes, IMO. I find the joy in finding owls, especially GHOs, on my own with no tips. I have found several nests that are easily accessible, but remotely located from crowds. They have been used for decades, although certainly not by the same pairs of owls. I have only taken three people there who I trust to not spread the word. One of them passed on in 1999. I would never tell anyone else, not even birders who would likely respect the owls more than many photographers. I once found a sick owl at Bosque that nobody else had noticed. I called a guy from the refuge to come and catch it. While waiting for him to come, another photographer started to get very close and even got into the water to get even closer. I told him to back off, knowing he would not like me saying that. His young son was also trying to approach it from another angle and I chased him off too. When the refuge guy got there with an assistant, they caught it and took it to a rehab place. It was later released back into the same area. If I hadn’t stayed with it, the owl would have probably flown out into the pond to escape the photographer like it tried to when it was being captured. I know not all photographers are disrespectful of their subjects, but I feel that I’d rather not create situations for owls by revealing their locations. Let others find their own subjects – Santa Fe Joe

My answer: Apart from a mushy pet rescue story it is clear that he didn’t understand my point about suppressed owls still getting ‘abuse’ but no chance to Police sites nor educate. His comment ” it almost seems like he says what he does to find locations for his own purposes,” are superfluous. My purposes are to enjoy seeing owls, I said what I said because I’m missing owls and because I believe it is counterproductive to suppress, as the piece says. I take the view that the majority of people are respectful and well behaved. You can only hope to correct poor behaviour by witnessing it.

These comments are on the blog but reproduced here as part of the debate.

I as a rule, do not share my findings at all. Not because I don’t want other people to see the birds, but because I don’t want a horde of outside people in one place getting the police and locals pissed off in my area. I went to see the Lark Bunting on Amherst Island and ran into several locals who were pissed off by the horde of birders that showed up there (I happened to come the day after it was last seen, so at the tail end of the extravaganza). The farmer next door wasn’t happy and spoke to us, the people living around him who stopped to give us an opinion weren’t happy and the Municipal personnel whose dump truck stopped to give us a lecture weren’t happy. I learned my lesson that day about reporting anything. That is Ontario. I can only imagine what it would be like in Quebec – David.

My answer: David – People moan about a lot of things, but the very minor disturbance a few birders cause when enjoying what might be a once only rarity doesn’t warrant suppression. As for people on Amherst, tough, they were wanting birder backing when the wind farm thing came up, so they should welcome birders with open arms. As for municipal people complaining, so what if you are in their way, people move when they see it is needed, and the municipal people can wait a few seconds, it’s not like it happens all of the time. As for not sharing findings while going to see something else that someone has found, that is rank hypocrisy. By all means keep your sightings to yourself if you wish, just don’t go and see anything found by someone else. I saw the Lark Bunting, it was on a road that probably saw three cars a day. The road wasn’t blocked, the birders didn’t trespass and nobody stopped to talk or complain. Quebec doesn’t have as many birders as Ontario, nor the number of rarities. I’ve chased a few things in Quebec but never had any problems. If I can I always make a point of chatting to locals and encourage them to take a look through the scope, engaged people are less likely to complain.

As you can see, we have rather wandered off topic.

On the whole I agree with you Mark – and would add that if there are problems and obstructions being caused for the locals then it’s only because some twit with bins, scope or camera is being thoughtless and inconsiderate. It isn’t impossible to avoid blocking roads and trails and I would guess all that utside money being spent in snack bars, gas stations and B&Bs is probably welcome in places like Amherst Island? – Richard.

A reply from David to my comment.

The let’s educate and police thing has already been tried. It doesn’t work. When word gets out is too late to control the situation. Don’t report owl locations and keep it quiet is the only way – David.

So, rather than keep trying to Police and educate, you advocate sticking your head in the sand and pretending that the problem is not happening. Look at the various photo forums, you will see owls that have been baited and shots of birds that have been harassed to provide the image. How many times this happened is anyone’s guess, nobody was there to voice an opinion. A significant part of the bad behaviour problem is that people prefer to walk away muttering rather than raise their voices.

A further comment from David – You do realize that the Owl Woods on Amherst Island are under full suppression now. They do not want people to report it to Ebird now, just to prevent new people from finding out about the place. There have been too many poorly behaved people traveling to that island for them to welcome them with open arms anymore.

Comment from me – yes I do know about the suppression of news from the owl woods, bolting the stable door really, perhaps renaming the woods might help in the long term. Logically, it is better to have the people misbehaving in one place then heavily Police it but there has to be a due process to enforce. I’ve often thought that, if a municipality can have rules regarding when you can place your trash bin out and the like, and be able to issue fines for contravention, then why can’t they all have bird protection bylaws and do the same. If photographers and birders thought that a spot-fine could be issued, especially something sufficiently punitive, they might think again about behaving badly.

As for twitching, I try not to do it at all. In rare moments, like the Lark Bunting who was so close to home, I break my rule and because I did, I was not the slightest bit angry when I dipped on it. The fact that I live less than an hour away from that bird and missed it goes to show you how much I don’t like twitching other people’s finds. I was however not happy with the less than stellar reception I got, considering I live in the area and out-of-towners seemed to have made local birders like myself unwelcome.

As for Quebec, as someone who grew up in that province and who returns on occasion to bird with his dad, I can tell you there a great many birders in the Outaouais region do not report. They want no part of record committees, junk data (as my dad calls Ebird), self aggrandizers who claim they found the 4th record of this or the 10th record of that. My dad is roughly your age and birding was as popular here when he was a kid as it was over in England. They had a great big gang when he was growing up that birded everywhere and the better part of them became scientists and naturalists, some of which went on to become North American birding stars like Ron Pittaway. So there is a birding culture here, it just doesn’t support listing like other areas.

Not using eBird is displaying a parochial attitude towards a proactive system. It has its faults, some pretty big ones in my opinion, but one day, thanks to eBird data, there will be a plaque on many a parking lot or residential development telling you that it is the site of the very last (fill in name of species here)… As for birding cultures, they differ from place to place but the underlying tenet is that we all want to see and enjoy birds. On moving to Canada in 2003, I was surprised by how photographers birded with just cameras and no bins. I’m used to the thing now but I still regard someone without bins, just a camera, as not really a birder. The reality is that they are birders, just doing it differently.

As an aside, I looked up the word tenet (via MS Word) and the first definition was this: Tenet Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading healthcare services companies, with a comprehensive network that extends the US from coast to coast. I would like to take all those bastards who have hijacked the Internet as their own, paid for advertising resource and drop them in the deepest part of the ocean – rant over.

As for not having trouble birding in Quebec, I’m surprised. As someone born and raised in the province and speaks both languages fluently I can’t count the number of times we had trouble with the cops about “hunting from the road” or “suspicious behaviour” or “being in a park too early”. I have been shot at, chased down roads and threatened by people who don’t want hippies or as I quote someone from last year translated from french “those damn perverts with the big cameras coming near our place”.

Cops I’ve spoken to when birding have been fine and even vaguely interested. Perhaps because I’m English I get a bit more latitud,e but my experiences have always been positive. Onetime I was birding with a visitor in a not very friendly area, lots of privee signs, and was challenged, politely. We chatted and it turned out that the guy owned a large woodlot and, once we convinced him that we were just birders, gave us carte blanche access, all that on a single meet.

Support from Darren – “Another superb essay and right on the mark, Mark!”

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