Tuesday, December 14, 2010

These are a few of our favorite things...

Many of our recent posts have had a very serious tone, so I thought it might be nice to take a breather and think about something a bit more light and festive. Kenn and I would like to share some cool things that we'll be gifting to the people we love this holiday season. We hope you'll consider some of these wonderful gifts, too!


Winged Journey: a 16-month calendar of birds.
With lovely photos from photographer Bryan Holliday (I mean, come on, his name's "Holliday" for goodness sakes!), and beautiful poetry by Sally Deems-Mogyordy, this calendar makes a perfect gift for anyone on your holiday shopping list: birder and nonbirder alike! One calendar fan told us that she bought a calendar for all of her friends and family and wrote in reminders of all the special dates, like birthdays and anniversaries.  Isn't that a great idea?! And, as if you needed any more reasons to order your copies right now,  a portion of the proceeds benefits Black Swamp Bird Observatory, so you get a wonderful calendar AND support a great cause, too!

  Hand-turned wooden writing instruments made by
Galen Frank-Bishop, a young birder from Massachusetts.  
This picture just doesn't do them justice.  These pens are fabulous!
If you're looking for the gift for that person who has everything (or maybe even a treat for yourself), this is it! These are more than simply "writing instruments."  These are fine works of art.  The barrel of each pen is hand-crafted by Galen himself and the "innards" are by the Cross Company - so they're refillable! Choose from Spalted Maple, Mesquite, Bloodwood, Cocobolo, Kingwood, Rosewood, and Zebrawood. Purchase Galen's works of art, HERE!

Buy yourself, and all of the coffee drinkers on your holiday gift list,
some certified shade-grown coffee.
As you might imagine, Kenn gets asked to endorse a lot of bird-related products. He usually politely declines, but when the folks at Birds and Beans came calling, Kenn looked at the company's mission and agreed to become a spokesperson.  If you'd like to introduce someone to a great tasting cup of coffee and support the Birds and Beans mission to make sure that people who enjoy coffee and care about conservation can get great coffee that they know is good for bird conservation, family farmers and the environment. Then visit their website and order some of their wonderful, bird-friendly coffee today:  Birds and Beans: the Good Coffee

Give the Gift of Wildlife Conservation This Holiday Season:
purchase a conservation stamp, like these:

The Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp
Impress the wildlife enthusiasts in your life with an Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp this holiday season. When you purchase this attractive gift, $14 of each $15 stamp sold supports:
* Habitat restoration, land purchases and conservation easements
* Keeping common species common
* Endangered and threatened native species
* Wildlife and habitat research projects
* Educational products for students and wildlife enthusiasts, such as the Division's popular field guides and CDs.

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp:
also known as "The Duck Stamp."
But, purchasing this stamp doesn't just help ducks! Ninety-eight cents of every dollar from the sale of this stamp goes directly toward habitat conservation.  Since 1934, the sales of Federal Duck Stamps have generated more than $750 million, which has been used to help purchase or lease over 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S. These lands are now protected in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System. 

The Junior Duck Stamp
The Junior Duck Stamp (JDS) recognizes the conservation efforts of young people and supports environmental and conservation education programs in the United States. The stamp design is selected from a national art contest administered by the Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program. The first place national winner of the art contest graces that year's JDS and is sold in a variety of places for $5. All proceeds of the stamp are used to fund environmental education programs, award the students for their work, and market the JDS program.

These stamps make GREAT stocking stuffers and you can get them all in one convenient place: RIGHT HERE!

Gift Memberships to Your Favorite Birding and/or
Bird Conservation Organizations.  For instance:

Give a kid (or a beginner of any age!) the gift that will last a lifetime.
Give them the joy of birds and birding this holiday season!

Here's a great way to start!
The best guide for beginners!

Team the Kaufman Guide with some great optics from our friends at 
Eagle Optics - we recommend these:
 The Eagle Optics Raven is the perfect binocular for young kids. They fit even really small hands, but they also work great for kids of all ages (adults love them, too).

Another great binocular for beginners of all ages is
The Eagle Optics Ranger 

A Kaufman Field Guide paired with quality optics like these makes the perfect combination for beginning birders!

Wishing all of you a holiday season filled with peace and joy,
and of course, lots of birding adventures!   ~ kimm and kenn

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Quest for Responsible Wind Energy Continues

From Homebase in Oak Harbor, a very tired Kimberly Writes:
Today, Black Swamp Bird Observatory hosted a meeting in Port Clinton, Ohio, to discuss the far reaching implications of wind turbines in migratory bird stopover habitat. We approached the issue from several angles, with experts speaking on ecotourism and the preservation of our last remaining scenic landscapes, the bird and bat mortality issue, and even the efficiency and economics of these machines. We gave a large gathering of community leaders--as well as representatives from the wind energy industry who were in attendance--a great deal to consider. Certainly no one there today can continue to claim ignorance about the fact that wind turbines in this region will share the air column with millions of migratory birds, including the critically endangered Kirtland's Warbler, the state endangered Sandhill Crane, and one of the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states.

Today, we took the first step in working toward some reasonable solution to the need for renewable energy and the need to be responsible stewards for migratory birds, ecotourism, and the scenic vistas that we must cling to so fiercely if they are to be preserved for future generations. We have learned that nothing is sacred in our quest to generate more and more and more electricity. Nothing is sacred -- unless we kick and scream that it is.

An example of some of the information brought out today: Thanks to one of our experts, Bill Evans, the audience learned that the plan to target schools in the Lake Erie Marsh Region as places for wind turbines (many deep within the area deemed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to be the highest area of concern for birds and bats) has some serious flaws. School yards are frequently lighted throughout the night for safety purposes. The combination of large banks of lights -- that have been proven to attract nocturnal migrants -- coupled with 300 foot structures with spinning blades is a potentially lethal combination.

Many organizations and agencies were represented at today's meeting, including: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ohio Division of Wildlife, Ohio State Parks, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the American Birding Association, two of the three Ottawa County Commissioners, the Mayor of Port Clinton, SureEnergy, Erie and Ottawa County departments of tourism, Audubon chapters, Ottawa County Community Improvement Corp., and local business owners. We also invited the press, and reporters from The Beacon (Ottawa County) and The Metropress (Lucas County) were there covering the discussion.

Here are the seven items we presented as desired outcomes from today’s meeting. These points resulted in some great dialogue and left us with at least a glimmer of hope that we can continue to work together to ensure the integrity of the quality habitat (for birds and humans) in this region.

Desired Outcomes:
 • Support for our three-year moratorium on additional wind turbines within three miles of the Lake Erie shore in Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie Counties until research on nocturnal migrants (including radar studies) can be completed

• Expansion of the current voluntary wildlife review process for industrial turbines to include midsized turbines 100 feet or more in height and/or 10 Kilowatt or greater

• Explore the potential for consortia of local schools to install turbines in areas outside the zone of highest concern, sharing the energy benefits

• Explore the potential for other sources of renewable energy within the zone of highest concern

• Explore the potential of bringing economic growth to the area by encouraging wind turbine manufacturing plants to locate here

• Permanent ban on any wind turbines 300 feet or higher within the zones of highest concern as identified by Ohio Department of Natural Resources

• Development of a local level Western Basin Wind Working Group

Being a part of the birding and conservation community means that you are frequently blessed by the outpouring of support from your fellow warriors. Today, our team at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Ohio Ornithological Society, and Greater Mohican Audubon Society, was bestowed great gifts of knowledge and expertise from none other than:
Ted Eubanks (http://www.fermatainc.com/)

Bill Evans (http://www.oldbird.org/) and (http://www.towerkill.com/)
Keith Lott (Ohio Division of Wildlife)
Dan Boone (http://www.VAwind.org/).

---Talk about the bird conservation dream team!

Also part of today’s dream team were Kenn Kaufman, Cheryl Harner, Jen Sauter, Mark Shieldcastle, Julie Shieldcastle, Ken Keffer, Paul Baicich, Dana Bollin, and Guy Denny. Larry Fletcher and the staff at the Ottawa County Visitors’ Bureau hosted today’s meeting and we offer them our gratitude for their hospitality.

I’d also like to mention that our online petition is having an impact. I know most of you have signed it, but if you haven’t please do, and consider encouraging others to as well.

You can also visit http://www.bsbobird.org/wind_energy.htm for more information.

We’ll keep you posted as we continue to work toward a solution.

Thanks!  ~kimberly

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Marsh Mellow

The past few months have been among the most challenging of my life.  I have never fought so hard for something that seemed so unattainable. I have never been more angry, frustrated, bitter, confused, and even depressed, as I have been since BSBO decided to speak out about the wind turbines that are creeping their way into migratory bird stopover habitat in northwest Ohio.

That's certainly a neat and tidy little term, isn't it?  "Migratory Bird Stopover Habitat."  All  scientific and clinical.  

This is what it really is...

It is a part of our history 
The Lake Erie Marsh Region of northwest Ohio is all that is left of what was once referred to as The Great Black Swamp

It is our heritage
The marshes were historically owned by duck hunting clubs before eventually being transferred to the state and federal wildlife agencies.  Think what you want about duck hunting, but were it not for the foresight and absolute respect for the resource shown by hunters, these marshes would have been developed long ago.   If you have ever enjoyed a day of birding or nature observation at one of these areas, then you have duck hunters to thank for it. Purchase a habitat conservation stamp!

It can represent the difference
between life and death
The Lake Erie marshes are of global significance for thousands upon thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds: like the Blackpoll Warbler.

 These remaining patches of habitat allow birds like Blackpoll Warblers to rest and feed during an astounding journey that we cannot begin to comprehend. 
The fall migration route of the Blackpoll Warbler includes an 80 hour, nonstop flight over the open ocean.

It is a place where life, and joy, and beauty
gather in epic proportions
A gorgeous male Black-throated Blue Warbler
by Brian Zwiebel

The flame-throated (male) Blackburnian Warbler in Spring

The lovely little Pied-billed Grebe
The magnificently elegant Northern Pintail Drake.
My favorite bird photo of all time: by Brian Zwiebel

A retina-burning, joy-inducing Prothonotary Warbler

It is an economic boon for the Lake shore communities
Here, in this magical place, one tiny bird (in this case a Golden-winged Warbler), has the power to gather the masses and hold them spellbound. Every year, thousands of birders visit this area to enjoy the spectacle of songbird migration. While they are here, they spend millions of dollars, and make a significant economic impact on the local communities.

It's a place to celebrate
Students from the Fremont, Ohio Migrant School visit BlackSwamp Bird Observatory to celebrate birds and learn about bird migration and stopover habitat!

It's a place where you will find the bizarre...
The "Mr. Potato Head of the Bird World"
The American Woodcock

...and the totally cool
The specially adapted comb on the toe of the Whip-poor-will for cleaning the rical bristles around its massive pie hole!(Is that the coolest thing, or what?!)

It's a great place to raise your kids
Adorable Black Tern nestlings
banded in the Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area

Even some big honkin' kids!
Bald Eagle Nestlings

It is the opportunity to teach
Perrysburg High School biology students learn about bird migration research, the importance of conserving stopover habitat for migratory birds, and potential careers in wildlife conservation.

And an opportunity to discover
A female Connecticut Warbler in breeding condition, banded July 26th, in the Navarre Marsh, a first July record for Ohio.
It is a place to find inspiration
Each year, volunteers like Vic and Lois Harder donate thousands of hours to wetland research, education, and outreach in this area. They make the work of nonprofit organizations and state and federal wildlife agencies possible, and in the process, they provide an endless supply of support and inspiration.

And it is a place where I have witnessed
the depths of the human spirit
This is me with my friend, Michael.  Michael comes to visit me and the marsh with his friends from Lotts of Nature, a program for folks who are dealing with special challenges. The program is sponsored by Lott Industries and organized by my friend Helen Polachko.   (Helen is amazing!) When they arrive, I am waiting for them in the parking lot, because I know that, practically before the van has stopped, Michael will come crashing out the door to hug me. Michael and the rest of the members of the group face challenges that we can't even begin to imagine.  But, in spite of all the obstacles they must overcome each and every day, there is still room for happiness. The look of unabashed joy on Michael's face when he gets to touch and release a wild songbird sears itself onto my heart like a tattoo.  It will stay with me forever and it carries me though some of the darkest days. This magical place has brought so many amazing person into my life and into my heart. 

It is the only documented stopover habitat
in the world for this bird

The rare, and critically endangered, Kirtland's Warbler

The stopover habitat in the Lake Erie Marsh Region is many things to many different birds and many different people.

It is NOT...

A place for these.

I hope you will join me and Kenn and Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Ohio Ornithological Society, and Greater Mohican Audubon Society in expressing how thankful we are for the few remaining places on the planet that provide the critical stopover habitat that connects birds with their breeding and wintering grounds, and provides us with such joy and beauty. Please sign this petition and let the politicians know that this matters to you.  Protect Migratory Bird Stopover Habitat in Northwest Ohio

Thank you!
Kimm and Kenn

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Battle of the Blades

Six months ago, all of us here in northwest Ohio were at the center of the birding world. Six months ago we were awash in a whirl of warblers and their watchers. Vast numbers of migratory birds poured in from the tropics, while semi-vast numbers of birders poured in from all over the United States and beyond to celebrate the “Biggest Week in American Birding” here in the “Warbler Capital of the World.”   
 Six months in the future, in May 2011, we expect it all to happen again. But right now, as fall migration fades in November, the scene in northwest Ohio is getting quieter. The traveling birders are mostly elsewhere now, celebrating specialties in south Texas, chasing rarities in California or Florida. They haven’t necessarily forgotten about us, but at the moment, we might not be on their minds.

And that’s unfortunate.
The timing of this is bad for the birds, from one particular angle. Right now there are threats to the stopover habitats here in northwest Ohio, the very spots that sustain all those migratory birds when they pause here on their travels. Various energy companies are pushing projects to set up noncommercial sized turbines very near the Lake Erie shoreline, some of them practically right on top of critical bird habitats and it's important to note that these "smaller" turbines can still exceed 300 feet.

Many of them are being proposed for schools, which is particularly problematic.  Many schools in this area are in serious financial trouble and searching desperately for ways to reduce costs.  Wind turbines (especially when the wind energy company gives them at no cost, as they have in some cases along the lake shore) seem like the perfect solution.  And in the right location, maybe they are. 
Unfortunately, some of the schools involved here are deep within the areas of highest concern for migratory birds and within a mile of active Bald Eagle nests. When you speak out about these concerns, many people simply label you as "The crazy tree huggers who are more worried about their little tweety birds than they are about helping kids learn."

Building wind turbines on school grounds is also a brilliant marketing plan and it's worked very effectively. That is, until they started proposing them in areas of migratory bird stopover habitat, and the ideas of science and due diligence became the proverbial "flies in the ointment."
And as we are discovering, there are virtually no regulations of any kind controlling where such noncommerical, "midsized" turbines can be erected. Compounding the problem is the fact that there's currently no data available on the impacts these "midsized turbines" have on birds and wildlife. Many people we've talked to question just how much damage a single wind turbine (even one 300+ feet tall) can really do. While we don't have hard data, when asked this question, we share this true story.

Several years ago, when the first cell phone tower stabilized by guy wires was erected in this area, the farmer who had leased that section of his field to the communications company for the tower came into a local wildlife research facility one spring morning with a bushel basket filled with dead adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  He had picked them up until the basket was full (he said there were lots more, but he only picked up what the basket would hold) and brought them in to see if anyone could tell him what they were. 
One night.
One tower.
One set of guy wires.
One bushel basket of dead birds.

So, the answer is, yes.  One wind turbine (or any tall structure) in an area of major stopover habitat like the Lake Erie Marsh Region has the potential to do significant damage. Now just imagine if there's another, and another, and another.

The people of this area are intelligent, caring, superb people.  They understand that Lake Erie is a precious resource that brings billions of tourism dollars to the area each year and they are passionate about caring for it and protecting it. And yet, many remain unaware of the massive bird migration that takes place here or the amount of ecotourism dollars generated by visiting birders.

Black Swamp Bird Observatory, along with the local visitor's bureaus:  Lake Erie Shores and Islands, and other organizations, is working very hard to raise awareness of just how essential this stopover habitat is for the birds and the marvelous asset it represents for the region.
The good news is that it's not too late. We still have an important opportunity to get this right and, rather than view this as a challenge -- one side versus the other -- we're trying to present it as an opportunity to prove to the world that we can find a reasonable solution. If we can make this work here in northwest Ohio, it could set a valuable  precedent and send a powerful message about the potential for responsible renewable energy.

Here's how you can help.

1) Tell Others
If you're a fellow blogger, we encourage you to share this issue with your readers. If you're a writer (or you know someone who is) please consider an article about this issue.

2) Sign a Petition
Black Swamp Bird Observatory,
Ohio Ornithological Society, and Greater Mohican Audubon Society have created an online petition and we urge you to support our efforts by signing it, here:  Protect Critical Migratory Bird Stopover Habitat in Northwest Ohio

3) Write Letters of Support
For more information, please visit BSBO's website at:

And please read:  
A Long Night's Journey Into Death.

Thank you so much! ~Kimm and Kenn

Monday, October 4, 2010

New Day at ABA

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: Readers of this blog will know that I’ve been very preoccupied for the last three months by the current situation at the American Birding Association. (In fact, I’ve been so preoccupied that the blog hasn’t been updated since the end of August.)

In early July, I was asked to be on the search committee for a new president / executive director for the ABA. This fine organization had just gone through some tough times, owing to a few bad decisions and a lot of bad luck. The previous president had been fired, the staff was upset about a variety of issues, membership had been declining, and the financial situation was going from bad to worse. Things were looking shaky for the ABA. But because this organization had done so much for me in the past, I agreed to try to help.

It has been a time-consuming and complicated process, as you might guess if you read the previous entries on this subject. But ultimately we had over a dozen serious applicants for the position, and four finalists who were all eminently qualified. At that point things got really difficult, because all four of the finalists were friends of mine, people I had known and respected for a long time. But after extensive interviews and discussions, the search committee came up with recommendations, and the ABA board of directors voted at the end of last week. As of today, they’re ready to announce the decision, and it’s just going up on the ABA website.

Ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Jeffrey A. Gordon, currently of Lewes, Delaware, soon to be in Colorado Springs at the ABA offices. I first met Jeff in the early 1990s, when he was a young naturalist and tour leader new on the scene, and we worked together teaching some intensive bird I.D. workshops set up through Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. A couple of years later, Jeff and I took a group of teenaged birders to Mexico, on the VENT / ABA sponsored Camp Cielo. Whether we were scoping sandpipers on the Texas coast or pursuing parrots in Mexican mountain forests, Jeff displayed a remarkable set of skills as a birder, organizer, teacher, and leader, and he had such a warm and engaging personality that everyone was drawn to him. I figured at the time that he was destined for great things.

In the years since, Jeff Gordon has become a popular speaker on the bird festival circuit, has written a very popular blog, has written many articles for Bird Watcher’s Digest and other publications, has been a major consultant to the Peterson Field Guide Series, has done innovative things with ecotourism and with new media such as podcasts and video, and has generally established himself as one of the leaders of the birding community in North America. And now he’s going to be the President of the American Birding Association. For more information you can go to the ABA’s website.

Congratulations, Jeff, and thanks to all of the fine people who helped with this process! There are still challenges to be met, but I'm confident that the birders will rally and that Jeff Gordon will lead ABA into a bright future.

Friday, August 27, 2010

For what it's worth...

A message from Kimberly: I have watched in awe as Kenn and many others navigated some turbulent seas to get the ABA on track. Kenn and I have had some "lively" discussions about the issue, ; ) and while I was not directly involved in the process of searching for the new Executive Director (I'm officially casting my vote for axing the term "President"), I have been actively engaged in studying the whole process and have learned a great deal from it. Thank you to everyone for the outpouring of support for the ABA---and for Kenn. If the dude wasn't so determined to write field guides that help people discover and enjoy nature (and so wonderful at it, I might add!), I'd encourage him to take the job himself. But, whomever the next ED is, I'm sure they can count on Kenn as a resource and I certainly hope that they will do just that.

So, consider this my "shout out" to Kenn and all those who are working hard to get the ABA back on its feet. I'd especially like to thank the staff at ABA for hanging on in spite of the rough seas that have threatened to drown out all the solid things they're continuing to accomplish.

And here's a little something to remind us all of why the effectiveness/success of every bird and conservation organization is worth working hard for.

Lincoln Sparrow

hope for the future of birds and birding

Magnolia Warbler

Loggerhead Shrike

Bay-breasted Warbler

Pied-billed Grebe

Friday, August 20, 2010

ABA: Let's Look Forward

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: Six weeks have passed since Dick Ashford, chair of the board of the American Birding Association (ABA), contacted me out of the blue and asked me to be on the search committee for ABA’s next Executive Director (or President, as the position is currently called). Being part of the search has been far more time-consuming than I had expected initially, but it has given me some rewarding insights as well.

Shortly after getting involved, I wrote about the ABA’s situation on this blog, and the outpouring of comments was remarkable -- highly detailed comments came in from more than 40 people, including no fewer than seven former ABA board members and other well-known leaders of the North American birding community. During the same time period, I had conversations with most of the current ABA staff, dedicated long-term members of the organization, and many others.

After the first couple of weeks my outlook on ABA’s future was not very positive, for three reasons:

1. Many of the comments -- including some from birders with detailed knowledge of ABA’s history -- were very negative.

2. Some aspects of the current situation were worse than I had realized.

3. At first there were very few applicants for the President position, leading me to wonder if the best candidates had been scared off by the situation or by the rhetoric about it.

But as I said, that was just my initial outlook. As things have developed, I’m now seeing a much more positive picture and a much brighter future for the American Birding Association. These are the things that have changed my perspective:

1. Even in the midst of intense outside criticism, the ABA board of directors has continued to do its job. While some harsh critics were calling for the resignation of the entire board, several board members continued to work behind the scenes to deal with current problems and move the organization forward.

2. Although there have been few official responses, the ABA board of directors has been paying close attention to the ongoing discussion. Case in point: several people raised questions about the ABA bylaws, so board chair Dick Ashford established a committee to review these bylaws. The committee, chaired by Lynn Barber, includes staff and board representatives, plus outside individuals -- such as Rick Wright, who had criticized the bylaws in the first place. This is clearly a case of listening to the concerns of critics rather than shutting them out.

3. The professional staff of ABA has continued to do a superb job. The upheaval and uncertainty of recent months have affected them more than anyone, but they continue to put out wonderful publications and carry out worthwhile programs. These dedicated and talented people represent a major asset for the organization.

4. Although I’m not at liberty to discuss what I know about this, there are some positive changes in the works regarding the infrastructure of the organization, including the workings of the board of directors. The board recognizes its own problems and is quietly but actively working to correct them.

5. Finally, I am tremendously encouraged by the fact that several highly qualified individuals have applied for the ABA President position. At first I was worried that no one would apply, but fortunately that turns out not to be an issue, and ABA has the luxury of trying to make the best choice from among several very strong candidates.

And it is energizing to read the comments from the leading candidates. They’re all aware of the significant challenges in the short term, but they are all brimming with optimism as they look at the extraordinary potential of the organization. They see that there is a huge role for the American Birding Association to play, serving to promote birding, to advocate for birding, to provide a strong voice for the whole community of birders. To read their comments, the glass isn’t just half full, it’s overflowing with potential. That’s the kind of attitude that we need as we go forward.

I respect everyone’s opinions, and I recognize that some long-term ABA members have a right to be angry about some recent missteps. But as for myself, I prefer to look forward and to focus on the amazing possibilities that still lie ahead. I’m optimistic that within a few months we’ll be looking forward confidently to a bright future for the ABA.

Incidentally, I’m not alone in this attitude. When I had this piece mostly drafted, I ran across two very recent blog posts that are well worth reading. Rick Wright at Aimophila Adventures wrote about the qualities he would like to see in the next ABA President -- a consideration that wouldn’t be necessary if the organization had no future. The essay is here.

Over at The Drinking Bird blog, the ever insightful Nathan Swick has a very thoughtful essay about the online conversation that developed this summer over the ABA’s situation. Nate makes the point that this conversation was significant in several ways: not only did it prove that a lot of people were interested in the ABA, not only did a lot of ideas come out of it, but the very nature and format of the online discussion served as a demonstration of the ways that ABA can communicate and act in the modern birding community. This must-read essay is here.

The American Birding Association was very important to me when I was a kid birder -- I was an ABA member long before I had a driver’s license. I’m not a kid any more, but I’m still an eager ABA birder. Now I’m looking ahead to the ABA’s 50th-anniversary bash in the year 2019 -- it ought to be a doozy. I’ll hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

ABA: Inclusiveness

Mallard on the park pond, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at the migrant trap, Wandering Albatross over the Drake Passage: would you enjoy looking at any of these birds? If so, you're a good birder.

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: The intense discussions this summer regarding the future of the American Birding Association (ABA) have led some people to question just who the organization should be for. Predictably, a few have suggested that it should be a group designed for "good birders." I have strong opinions about that idea, I’ve expressed them in the past in other settings, and I want to repeat them here.

Forgive me if it seems immodest for me to quote from myself. But I wrote something a long time ago that still seems relevant:

"Birding is something that we do for enjoyment; so if you enjoy it, you’re a good birder. If you enjoy it a lot, you’re a great birder."

I wrote that back in the 1980s, and apparently it rang a bell with some people. The editors of British Birds were kind enough to quote it in their fine magazine. Roger Tory Peterson quoted it in the introduction to the 1990 edition of his Field Guide to Western Birds. (Peterson had been my lifelong role model, and you can imagine what a thrill it was to be quoted by my own hero, the man who was the world’s most influential birder at the time.) Later I used this same phrase in the introduction to my own Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America. So the thought has been out there for a while, but I wanted to repeat it.

Birding is something that we do for enjoyment, so if you enjoy it, you’re a good birder. If you enjoy it a lot, you’re a great birder. I think the American Birding Association will need to adopt that attitude as they go forward. Become a group for all those good birders -- for everyone who enjoys it -- and try to make them into great birders by helping them to enjoy it even more. In fact, the ABA could claim to have some initial ownership of the idea, because I first thought of it after taking part in a panel discussion at an ABA convention. I wrote it in a letter to Jim Tucker, who was then still the executive director of ABA, and he liked it enough that he printed it in Birding magazine as a letter to the editor. So it first saw the light of day in ABA’s magazine.

Do you enjoy birding? If your answer is "yes," it doesn’t matter whether you’re watching the finches in the back yard or trekking off to Borneo to look for Bristleheads, you’re one of us. You’re a good birder. I hope the American Birding Association will make a strong comeback and offer an enhanced experience to all of us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Which Way for ABA?

From a state of contemplation, Kenn writes: The American Birding Association (ABA) has been an important part of my life ever since I joined, at the age of 16, back in the 1970s. The ABA was a brand-new organization then, and it served a unique role in connecting the active birders of the U.S. and Canada. Its little bimonthly magazine, Birding, was a treasure trove for me as a teenager, giving me tips on bird-finding and bird identification that I wouldn’t have known about in any other way. When I started traveling, as a hitch-hiking, teenaged birder, the ABA connected me with other enthusiasts and with prime birding hotspots, and helped to put me on a course as a professional naturalist.

In subsequent years I was involved with ABA in many ways. I taught bird I.D. workshops at many of their conventions, and later I began giving evening keynote talks at these events; for a while, I had spoken at more ABA conventions than anyone else. I wrote dozens of pieces for Birding magazine, and edited their Photo Quiz feature for ten years. I served on their checklist committee, and even served two terms on their board of directors, most recently in the mid-1990s.

But I hadn’t had any kind of leadership role at ABA for more than ten years now. So I was very surprised when Dick Ashford, current chair of the board, called me out of the blue to ask me to get involved. The ABA is looking to hire a new President, and Dick wanted me to serve (along with three current board members) on the search committee to find someone for that position.

Given my history with ABA, you might think that I would have accepted immediately. As it happened, ultimately I did agree to be on the search committee, but it was with some trepidation.

The fact is that the American Birding Association is facing a tough situation right now. Membership numbers have been declining for the last few years, there have been a number of bad management decisions, and the organization is in financial difficulties. Whoever comes in as the new president is going to have to overcome some major challenges.

Of course, a decline in numbers is something that has happened to many membership organizations and many print publications over the last decade or so. But ABA has taken a double hit from the effects of the internet and the proliferation of bird festivals. Back in the early 1990s, birders who wanted to be "in the loop" on a continentwide scale almost had to belong to ABA. The magazine and newsletter were prime sources of the latest information, and the biennial ABA convention was a really big deal, with hundreds of the most active birders in attendance. Today many birders get their information, and even their sense of community, most easily online: bits of news on listserves and social networking sites, detailed information on websites, opinion pieces and essays on blogs. And there are so many birding festivals all over the continent that it has become very hard for ABA conventions to compete. The publications-and-conventions model that worked so well in the early 1990s just doesn’t cut it in 2010.

So ABA has fallen farther and farther behind the curve during the last decade. It wasn’t inevitable -- it would have been possible for the organization to keep up, or stay ahead, with some innovative and forward-looking changes. But those changes weren’t made. I’m not going to point fingers or assign blame -- indeed, I don’t want to, as ABA’s leadership over the last decade has included various friends of mine. But no one took those bold steps that would have made ABA membership an obvious must-have for active birders. And the resulting slow decline has been accelerated by some very bad recent decisions that have put the organization in a precarious financial fix.

That being the case, why am I involved at all in trying to help out? After all, there’s nothing in it for me except risk -- I’m just one person on the search committee, so I can’t control the outcome, but I’ll get part of the blame if things go badly.

But I think it’s worth the risk because I see not just big problems, but big potential. ABA still has thousands of active members. It still has excellent programs in place -- its "Birders’ Exchange," for example, is doing wonderful things to promote research and conservation in Latin America. Its magazine, Birding, its technical journal, North American Birds, and its newsletter, Winging It, continue to be valuable. And beyond that, I can envision a future in which ABA could be a tremendously positive force. Currently there is no organization that serves effectively as an advocate for birders and birding in North America. Yes, there are bird conservation groups, and ornithological societies that promote scientific study of birds, but there is no group that really advocates for birders -- promoting birding for its own sake, providing a sense of community, working to give birders a unified voice. ABA could be that voice. But only if it survives. And that may come down to the next person hired as president of the beleagured organization.

So ... anyone interested? ABA is seeking a highly motivated person to serve as President (analogous to what would be called the Executive Director in many other nonprofits). This person should have a good knowledge of active field birding, and should have relevant experience in running a nonprofit, running a small business, or both. This person had better have a lot of energy, and had better be committed to the vision of helping the birding community at large. You can read the whole job description here.

For more independent background on ABA’s current situation and future prospects, written by the perceptive and articulate Nate over at "The Drinking Bird," click here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Return to Hog Island

Kim Writes: It's been quite a long time since Kenn and I have traveled. In fact, I don't think we've been on a plane for almost a year; much to the dismay of many birding clubs, groups and organizations that have asked Kenn to speak at events, meetings, and banquets. (I'm not afraid to admit that I love that my man is in demand!) Kenn has had to turn down so many requests because he's finishing a major overhaul of his first book, A Field Guide to Advanced Birding. The book is GREAT and I think people are going to be very excited when they get their hands on it next spring! I hope everyone understands why he had to say no to so many wonderful organizations!
So yeah, we were in full-on "Just Say No" mode, and then Steve Kress called us. Steve announced that he had taken the reins of one of National Audubon's greatest treasures, a little island off the coast of Maine called, Hog Island. I'm not going to go into all the history behind "The Hog," but trust me, this place has the kind of rich history that brings tears to your eyes. For example, when the camp first opened in 1936, the first Ornithology Instructor?... Roger Tory Peterson! Learn more about Hog Island, the camps there, and the island's extraordinary history HERE!
Budget cuts had forced Audubon to close the camp for a while; heartbreaking news for those of us who had fallen in love with the place. When Steve called to tell us that he had convinced Audubon to reopen the camp and was inviting us to come back as instructors, "Just Say No" turned into"Just Say Go!" By the way, if the name Steve Kress sounds familiar, it's because Steve is "The Puffin Dude." Learn more about how Steve snatched the Atlantic Puffin from the jaws of extinction and formed Project Puffin HERE.

Don't you think they look like little caricatures of themselves?!
I posted a picture of Hog Island on my Facebook wall and announced that I was going to camp. Here's the picture:

The picture does the place no justice whatsoever.
You just can't imagine how lovely it is.
After I posted the picture my friend Jason commented: Audubon Camp? Like, volleyball, swimming, first crushes, and putting on "Our Town?"

To which I responded: "Jason, It's more like, Atlantic Puffins, snuggling in a chilly, rustic cabin, being called to dinner by the same dinner bell that called Roger Tory Peterson and Alan Cruikshank to dinner, being awakened by the soft growl of the lobster boats heading out to sea in the morning mist, and Lang Elliot, Steve Kress, Scott Weidensaul, and Kenn Kaufman -- all on the same small island - freaking camp!"

By the way, "Jason" is Jason Kessler, producer of, Opposable Chums, the best video ever made about birding, If you don't have a copy of this DVD, click HERE and GET ONE. You'll love it!
I don' t have much time tonight. I've still got a ton of stuff to do and we're always scrambling to get everything done before we leave on a trip. It's always a little bit stressful and any minute now Kenn is going to start this thing he does that drives me crazy. He does this count down thing and calmy announces that we leave for the airport in XX number of hours, which sends me into a tizzy!

Also adding to my stress is the fact that this little creature recently came into our lives. Introducing, Kirby (also known as Kitty Meow Meow Head).

We've become ridiculously attached to him in a very short time and I'm a little bummed about being away so soon after we got him.

And so, I leave you with some scenes from our past trips to Hog Island and hope that someday you'll get to experience this glorious place for yourself.