Archive for December, 2020

So, 2020 has been quite a year. Dominated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year has been a hard one by just about any standard, and COVID-19 was not the only major environmental issue of the year by any means. Here is an article on some of the major environmental news stories of 2020. These stories highlight some major challenges and disasters that took place in 2020, but also some of the tremendous accomplishments that have occurred this year, not the least of which was the inspiring work done to understand and respond to the same COVID-19 virus. This work resulted in a triumph of medical science with multiple vaccines being developed in record time and beginning to be distributed and administered around the world as I am writing this!

In case you are looking for some reading material, and because I am book lover, here are two lists of some of the top nature/science/environment/conservation books published in 2020. The first is an article from Mongabay.com on 11 interesting books that have been published this year. The second is the top voted books from goodreads.com. These two lists will definitely impact my 2021 TBR (to be read) list.

And 2021 holds huge possibilities! Here is an article on some of the frontiers of science in 2021 that will be the type of research that expands our understanding of the universe, this planet, and the living creatures upon it including ourselves.

Happy New Year! Thank you for being a part of ABirdingNaturalist! Your support and time are tremendously appreciated.

Will 2021 be a good year for the environment? Here are our top 10  predictions - Environmental Defence

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What follows is a series of interactions between myself and a publishing company called Best Version Media (BVM) that I found to be unsettling and distasteful. It has resulted in me withdrawing my contributions to BVM publications. This story gets a little long, so I will be posting it in several parts. Here is part 3.

In part 2, I presented an article that I wrote and submitted to be published in a number of monthly magazines published by BVM.

After submitting the article, I got the following as a response on 8/19/2020. This response was relayed to me by PERSON 1 (name not included for sensitivity reasons), the individual who organizes the magazines I wrote for from BVM.

“We cannot include content about racial injustice, social unrest, racism, etc. That being said, we need to remove the article on page 9.”

I wanted to encourage BVM to reconsider this stance, and so wrote a letter to a member of their Content Management Team. Here is the letter I sent on 9/10/2020.

Dear PERSON 2 (member of the Content Management Team, name removed for sensitivity reasons),

For the past few years I have been writing articles on birds and birding for a few community magazines in the east bay in California. One of those articles (titled: Bird Names and Social Justice) was recently rejected because it discussed racial inequality in the birding community and among the lack of representation among those people after whom birds have been named. This rejection, and the motivation behind it, concerns me.

I expressed these concerns to PERSON 1 (name removed for sensitivity reasons), the publisher of the magazines that have included my articles, and she passed your name and contact information on to me since you are the Content Team Director.

Intolerance exists in the birding community, unfortunately, and when it comes to bird names most of most of the people that have birds named after them are white men. It seems the article was rejected simply because it discussed that racial inequality exists. The specific response that I received was: “We cannot include content about racial injustice, social unrest, racism, etc.” This struck me as a rather tone-deaf response given current events. The unwillingness to publish anything that relates to racial or social inequality is a very privileged position to take. So many people simply do not have the option of ignoring these inequalities. For Best Version Media to have a blanket policy as a company to avoid these topics seems to me to send a message to the people of color who are members of our communities that some aspects of their humanity are simply too uncomfortable to discuss or even acknowledge.

I am not suggesting that Best Version Media is a specifically racist organization, but rather that simply being ‘not racist’ is not enough. We should all be seeking ways to be anti-racist, and part of that means acknowledging where inequalities exist, and recognizing them as needing work. PERSON 1, and the other members of her team that put out the magazines that I have been writing for, do a great job of highlighting the diversity in the east bay communities. This is the type of action that I think is called for, and naming inequality, as I did in the article I submitted, is not an outrageous act.

I hope you and Best Version Media are willing to reconsider your policy.


Aaron N.K. Haiman

What happened next really took me by surprise. Read part 4 of this series, and see if you are also surprised.

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I have been working at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (Delta Conservancy) for about five years, now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help form the competitive process by which organizations can apply for this funding, and then to manage the grants that fund the selected projects.

One such project is the Dutch Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration Project. This is a project being organized by a team including staff from the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the local reclamation district (RD 2137), and several consulting firms.

This project is a huge one! About 1,160 acres in size, this project represents one of the larger habitat restoration projects occurring in the Delta. And it is restoring extensive amounts of tidal habitat, which makes it an even bigger deal since tidal restoration is difficult from both technical and political standpoints. These difficulties help to explain why it has taken about 15 years for this project to go from concept to implementation. Since it is so large, funding has come from several different sources with funds from the Delta Conservancy awarded to cover the costs of the revegetation phase.

Partly as a result of how high profile a project this is, DWR has created some great materials for telling people about the project. One of the best is a short video about what the project is, how it came to be, and what the hopes for the project’s future include. I highly recommend giving this video a watch. Another amazing way to explore the project is their YouTube channel. This channel has dozens of videos. They are drone flights over the project taken over the past three years. Going and watching some of the earlier videos and comparing those with more recent videos is pretty breathtaking. These before and after videos provide a wonderful example of how dramatically, and relatively quickly, habitat restoration projects can change a landscape and create habitat.

I hope you enjoy the virtual exploration. The project will have trails that are open to the public when it is completed (likely next year), and I encourage you to head out to the site in person when that happens.

Image taken from one of the drone flight videos from 2020

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A few years ago I wrote a post on niche partitioning among herons and egrets. That post was inspired by watching several species of herons and egrets foraging for food along Putah Creek near Davis, CA, and the resource they were partitioning into niches was food.

Recently, as part of my work at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, I encountered another example of niche partitioning by herons and egrets. This time, the resource these birds are partitioning into niches is nesting trees.

One of the grants that I manage at the Delta Conservancy is at the Cosumnes River Preserve and it includes and grove of large Valley Oak trees that many herons, egrets, and cormorants use as a rookery (a rookery is a colony of breeding animals, generally birds). One way that the various species have evolved to utilize the same trees, and yet avoid directly competing with each other, is for each species to utilize a different part of each tree to nest in.

Great Blue Herons typically nest on the very tops of the crowns of trees, Great Egrets typically nest only in the upper one-third of the canopy, Snowy Egrets typically nest in the middle one-third of the canopy, and Black-crowned Night-Herons prefer to nest in the lower one-third of the canopy (see the image below).

Niche partitioning of nesting locations within a tree by heron and egret species

I think this stratifying of nesting locations is amazing! Species have evolved to fill so many different niches, and so many niches can be divided into finer and finer gradations. I wonder if there is really any limit to how many species can evolve, and how complex an ecosystem can develop, in a give location.

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What follows is a series of interactions between myself and a publishing company called Best Version Media (BVM) that I found to be unsettling and distasteful. It has resulted in me withdrawing my contributions to BVM publications. This story gets a little long, so I will be posting it in several parts. Here is part 2.

As stated in part 1, I wrote and submitted an article to be published in a set of monthly community magazines that I wrote for every month. This one touched on racism in the birding community.

Here is the article which I submitted on 8/10/2020.

Bird Names and Social Justice

By Aaron N.K. Haiman

In May of 2020, a birder asked a dog owner to leash their dog in Central Park, New York. The area of Central Park where this took place is an area where off leash dogs are not allowed, so this exchange might not seem particularly noteworthy. But it became noteworthy because the birder was a black man named Christian Cooper and the dog owner was a white woman who first threatened to call the police on Cooper, and then followed through on that threat stating to the police that she and her dog were being put in danger of their lives by a black man. This weaponizing of race was all recorded with cell phones and has now been seem by millions. It triggered the launch of Black Birders Week, an event that highlighted the challenges faced by birders of color. Black Birders Week brought awareness of some of those challenges, and some ideas for potential solutions, into focus for many. I, for one, very much hope that this event is repeated next year, and for many years to come.

One product of Black Birders Week, and the events and protests for racial justice occurring around the world, is some reexamination of the world around us. Why are some statues so problematic? Because they honor people who did some less than honorable things. Owning people, for example. Are there parallels in the birding world? Yes. One way that birders honor people is by naming birds after them, and this can be problematic in the same way as those statues.

Who are birds named after? Are those people really the ones birders want to honor? The answer is complicated. Some people are unworthy of the birds named after them. Some people are worthy of the honor given. Some people occupy a grey and uncomfortable space. All need to be talked about.

Personally, I have long taken issue with the name Bullock’s Oriole. William Bullock was a conman who presented the people of London with a natural history museum filled with specimens he presented as authentic, but that were, if fact, created for entertainment. As one example, he had a display in his museum that included a huge taxidermy snake that was actually two snake skins sewed together to make it appear bigger. He was also very wealthy, and he used his wealth to buy favor with scientific societies, explorers, and collectors and (among other things) this led to a bird being named after him. 

On the other hand, Alexander Wilson was a person that I think definitely deserves the honor conferred by the five species of bird that have been named after him. He was a pioneer of American ornithology who satirized the weaver profession (to which he was apprenticed when young) and who went on to teach ornithology for much of his life. His bird focused art and writing inspired innumerable naturalists and birders including John James Audubon.

Speaking of Audubon, he is a more questionable figure as a bird namesake. He is certainly rightly famous for bringing the beauty of birds to millions of people through his art. However, several of his writings contain distinctly racist views. He led the way in drawing and painting with incredible attention to accuracy. However, he owned slaves. It seems to me that better namesakes are available.

Of course, the names of birds share the lack of representation that is so pervasive in our society. Very few women have birds named after them. Very few people of color. Very few members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

It is my hope that bird names and birding culture change to more accurately represent and include all who have an interest in joining the birding community.

Stay safe, and wash your hands!

The response to this article will appear in part 3 of this series.

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