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.