One bird, two bird, three b– wait, is that Bird One again?

I’ve always taken notes while birding. These started as personal asides (my blog’s title should betray my tendency to inject romanticism into all), only recording species if they were surprising. I reported peculiarities to eBird, because I thought that’s what eBird was looking for. As a bonus, curiosities are usually easy to count: One. Boom.

But this isn’t the most valuable data. Birds face a grave opponent in climate change, and researchers need to know where species as wholes are found. Vagrant individuals travel heroic distances; while awesome to behold, they generally don’t indicate trends applicable to their entire species. They’re usually outliers, in the most basic statistical sense of the term. It’s the “Usual Suspects,” in all their abundant glory, who betray larger geographical and temporal shifts.

After this concept “clicked” in my bird brain, I began taking more detailed, quantitative notes, trying to record every species. I report lists to eBird as often as I can, and I’d love to do so more. There’s just one thing standing in my way. When I’m dealing with a common species, seen by the dozens, maybe even hundreds, over one birding session…

How the heck am I supposed to actually count these things?

Last week I had a great sit at an indoor viewing area, where I was treated to a huge turnout. I jotted a list of species I saw, and began frantically making hash marks. Initially, I had a system. I’d start with the first species on my list, tally the individuals I could see at that moment, then move to the next species and tally; when I got to the end of the list, I’d return to the first species and start again, adding to the previous tally. Repeat ad nauseam. (Literally. This sometimes makes me nauseous.)

As you may have guessed, this system rapidly collapsed. I was counting cardinals when — Oh! Is that a red-winged blackbird? He’s not on my list yet! Let me write him down… okay… where was I? Cardinals? Or was it titmice? Now who did I count already? Sit still! Were you there the last time I counted, or are you new? Did I skip goldfinches this round? Let me go back to — Oh, wow, a white-throated sparrow! Great, got him. Okay, hang on, did I see you already?

I was left with a list of species and some idea of their relative abundances. I have no idea just how accurate my crazed tallies are. How am I to know if each individual is a new arrival, or has already been tallied? What of those who land, depart, then return some time later? More importantly, does it matter? Does eBird have a resident Dark Wizard of Statistics who recites a mathematical incantation and makes all these inaccuracies smooth themselves over?

A historical depiction of either witchcraft or eBird birding statistics

I’ve never actually taken a statistics class, but this is how I imagine them.

We all know that birds don’t comply with our silly requests, and they seem to hate being counted for some reason. I really want to contribute meaningful data to eBird. So riddle me this: how can I get the most accurate abundance data I can, being only one human with one pencil and two eyeballs?

That wasn’t a rhetorical question, reader. I would like YOUR best tips and tricks, schemes and strategies, and methods to manage the madness of overwhelmingly numerous flocks. How do YOU do it? Please share your advice in the comments. In a way, given the immeasurable value of Citizen Science data… the future of our birds depends on it!

UPDATE! The good folks at eBird have published a couple of helpful articles on the art of counting birds – check them out! They mostly detail strategies to count large flocks on the move. The techniques described are great, but they weren’t extremely helpful regarding the feeder situation I described above. I’ve emailed eBird suggesting that they expand the series to include feeder strategies.

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Just a coupla’ updates!

Hello blogland! I’ve got a post a-cookin’, but I just wanted to briefly share a couple of exciting updates.

Firstly, you may notice that Love and Birding is all growed up and has its very own domain space! You can now find me at loveandbirding.com, instead of the dreadfully long-winded loveandbirding.wordpress.com. Oooh! Aaah!

Secondly, the tweeters are a-tweeting. I’m now on Twitter as @loveandbirding. Check that out! Kabam!

And finally, a dear friend of mine just informed me that Legacy, the magazine for the National Association for Interpretation, has just mailed out its January/February issue. If you should happen to receive this publication, you may or may not notice that one of the feature stories was penned by yours truly! I am very excited to have had this opportunity; it’s what rekindled my interest in writing and ultimately led to the birth of this blog. If you are a NAI member, be sure to check it out! If not, tough cookies.

That’s all for now! Look for a new post in the not-so-distant future.

Love doesn’t keep a Life List

Ah, the elusive “day off.” One of those days that is free of meetings, but best spent addressing loiterers on the ‘ol To-Do List. A day for sweeping floors (all of them), reorganizing bookshelves (I made the Dewey Decimal System look like child’s play), and copious vacuuming (look for my cat hair sweater on etsy). Despite these dull endeavors, my “day off” was far from uneventful. Oh no. Today was full of love and birding.

It was a challenging day for both these items.

I won’t rehash all the details, but I’ll give you the overview; it may sound familiar. A situation agitated me, and instead of confronting my mate, I brooded silently. This allowed an acute annoyance to spiral into overblown doubts about our priorities and values. I ultimately arrived at the unfounded conclusion that our relationship was, in short, doomed.

Amplified emotions drove me to look beyond the situation in question. I found myself combing through the archives of our relationship, subpoenaing any little injustice I could recall from weeks or months gone by. I dragged these out from their quiet resting places into the harsh light of a grumpy day, where they could serve as further evidence to support my wild mind’s ridiculous conclusion.

Well, as usually happens given a little time, I am no longer so emotional. I’m writing this in bed, beside Kristina. We took Stella for a long walk at Maumee Bay State Park; I hoped to glimpse their resident saw-whet owl, but alas, it was too cold for even him. Kristina made a delicious dinner, and despite it being before 9 pm, I feel ready for bed. (I’m picturing a toddler who collapses into deep sleep minutes after a tantrum.)

Before I rest, I wanted to share this experience, and the revelation that bridged the gap between the preceding paragraphs. Somewhere between “she never cleaned out the garbage can three weeks ago” and “what a great lady, let’s watch some Friends and hit the hay,” I recalled an observation made in an old book. With my thoughts lingering on the saw-whet, my brain produced this statement:

Love does not keep a Life List of wrongs.

Listing is for birds, not for every little thing that you have ever found remotely bothersome about your partner. Unless your Life List of Injustices involves serious offenses with grave implications, it is far better kept unlisted. Why? Because just like in birding, every day is a clean slate, and a chance to make a new list – preferably one of happy things, like birds observed, or times your partner made you smile.

Despite having had a mildly standoffish morning, and a rocky start to our Maumee Bay adventure, Kristina was still there to give me her gloves when my hands were cold. She was there to tell me a corny joke when I grew weary. And perhaps most importantly of all, she broke the stony silence between us by asking, “so what color is this bird we’re looking for?”

That “we’re” is what helped me get over myself and my melodrama. She isn’t a birder; she wasn’t there to bird. Despite this, she inquired about the bird that we were looking for. Because even on the hard days, the long days, the emotionally exhausting days… We are a team. And we do much better as a team when we bury our little hatchets and focus on the adventure at hand.

When we dwell on past annoyances, we close our minds to the bright spots that appear all around us, in a  far more important time frame: the present. After all, I would argue that we can only really truly focus, with all of our energy and our emotions and our logic, on one thing at a time. So if we’re stewing over yesterday’s dirty coffee mug, how can we possibly hope to appreciate today’s corny joke?  If you’ve been keeping a mental Life List of Injustices, I encourage you to crumple and toss it, and start keeping a Life List of Happy Moments in its place. I promise you that growing that list is far more rewarding.

Kristina and Stella on a very frigid Maumee Bay State Park walk.

Kristina and Stella on a very frigid Maumee Bay State Park walk.

A brief technological aside.

Hello there, readers! I recently observed a discussion on methods of sharing locations. In this case, GPS coordinates were provided, while somebody requested a street address. I’m sure we can all agree that GPS coordinates are valuable in many contexts and street addresses are valuable in many others, and many people have no problem going beep boop boop BEEP! and converting between the two.

However, some people may not know how to utilize this information. Working at an IT help desk taught me a lot about this. Technology produces wonderful tools, but they can come with steep learning curves! A computer task that seems simplistic to many people may be nigh unsolvable to someone who isn’t so familiar with electronics.

As such, I thought it might be helpful to make a quick tutorial on how to tackle the challenge at hand: taking GPS coordinates, shoving them into the Magic Internet Machine, and making it spit out an address that we can easily navigate to. I took a couple screenshots and tried to make the captions as detailed as possible. If you still have questions, feel free to email me at laurenmccafferty@gmail.com. Check out the photos below!

*Edit: I changed the tutorial to use more public coordinates.

And on the seventh day, I did stuff.

Well, I’m here at last. I’ve messed around with my settings. I’ve changed my theme about two dozen times. I’ve spent an hour cropping photos just so. I’ve opened a word document and brainstormed topics for posts. I’ve done just about everything I can with this blog except… well… blog.

I guess this is as good a topic as any for an inaugural blog post. It might not be about birds, or about love, but that’s okay – not every post will be. Disappointed? Tough acorns! Over to the right, there, you will discover a list of subspecies; I shall dutifully sort my posts into these categories. You can choose to view only those which interest you.

For now, though, I’ll offer a few thoughts on something that may sound simple, but really couldn’t be more complex: doing stuff. Yeah! Stuff! You do it! Well, sometimes you do. Other times, you set out to become a freelance writer, and you establish a nice blog to help that dream along, and you spend six days fiddling with the theme and the photos and the title, and before long you’ve got yourself a very handsome waste of internet space.

I’m not sure why I have found it so daunting. I enjoy writing; I do it all the time. I don’t have writer’s block; like I said, I have plenty of ideas for posts. It’s not as if I haven’t written anything in the six agonizing days that have slipped through my fingers since I established this blog. I’ve written quite a bit, actually.

Just not for other people to see.

Perhaps this is just the process that any Creator of Things goes through, upon embarking on a journey to Create Things. Maybe the intimidation of writing my first blog post is akin to the fright of the musician when he first takes to the stage, or the dread felt by an artist before her first gallery opening. Hey, wait, forget what I said earlier – I’ve thought of something relevant about birding! Perhaps it’s the same feeling a rookie birder gets when she wants to ask a question or make an observation, among a group of more experienced birders or on a birding forum or website, but refrains out of fear for being “wrong.”

Perhaps it is something that lurks inside all of us, to varying degrees: the fear of “putting ourselves out there,” of coming up with something brand new, presenting it to people we love (or people we don’t even know), and seeing it rejected, or mocked, or scoffed at.

This is the key, I think, to rousing ourselves to action. We have to remember that everybody feels this way; whether you are a writer, a musician, an artist, a teacher, a student, or even a birder. Being a rookie at anything is just hard, period. But as intimidating as it may be to think about taking action, inaction almost always carries an enormous weight – one that is unpleasant and even downright painful to bear. So what do we do? We take a deep breath, put on our Big Girl Pants, and just do stuff.

So here I am. I’m doing this blog thing. I hope to become a better writer, to humbly share my oft-scattered thoughts on birding and love and an array of other topics, and to elicit a smile or a chuckle from you, dear reader. It’s a brand new day, and a brand new year! Even if you, like me, have opted not to chisel into a stone tablet some highly specific Resolutions, there is simply no better time to start doing stuff. So pick your stuff and do it!