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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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A few mornings ago, I was sitting at our kitchen table eating breakfast with my family. As we eat and talked, I looked out through the sliding glass door toward the bird feeders we have hanging out there. This time of year, our feeders get some pretty good activity. As I watched, the usual House Finches, White-crowned Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows (a lot of them this winter), and Mourning Doves were poking around eating sunflower seeds.

But then something amazing happened! A bird hooped up to the top of the wall that defines one side of our yard. This bird was new. This bird was slightly smaller than the White-crowned Sparrows (which are themselves slightly smaller than the Golden-crowned Sparrows). This bird had a clear, white triangular patch at its throat. This bird was a White-throated Sparrow!

Photos - White-throated Sparrow - Zonotrichia albicollis - Birds of the  World
A tan morph White-throated Sparrow like the one I that visited my yard (Photo credit: Birds of the World).

White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia ablicollis) are a mostly eastern species. A spattering spend their winters on the west coast, but not many and finding one is always a real treat. This is the first White-throated Sparrow I have ever seen in our yard making the 75th bird species to be added to the yard list!

This species has a bunch traits that make it a bit odd and very interesting. One is the there are two different color morphs, one with white stripes on the head, and other has tan stripes. A related oddity is how these color morphs (which are genetically determined) are maintained in the population. Males of both morph prefer females that have white stripes, but females of both morphs prefer males with tan stripes. A final oddity is that White-throated Sparrows sometimes breed with Dark-eyed Juncos! The two species are not particularly closely related, nor do they look or sound alike. I have never seen one of these hybrids, but I really want to.

Like I said, a really odd and interesting bird, my favorite member of the genus, and a very exciting visitor!

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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 1.

In the spring of 2017 I began writing articles about birds for a small community magazine in Berkeley, CA, where I grew up. This magazine is published monthly, was successful, and grew. The team organizing it decided to launch two additional monthly magazines serving other communities in the east bay, and my articles have appeared in all three. Then in 2019, a different team of individuals launched a similar monthly community magazine in West Sacramento, CA, where I now live, and I started writing bird focused material for this magazine as well.

All four of these magazines are distributed by a larger company called Best Version Media (BVM).

According to their website Best Version Media: “distributes millions of community publications every year to local neighborhoods across the U.S. and Canada. We’re bringing people together, one community at a time, by tailoring our publications to the areas we serve.

Our community publications feature local families and highlight neighborhood news, events, sports and much more. By combining key elements of social media with the print media industry, BVM has experienced unparalleled growth since our company’s founding in 2007.

We proudly connect thousands of small businesses to local residents by providing business owners with a highly effective and powerful advertising platform. We’re one of the fastest-growing companies in the print media industry because we successfully target hyperlocal areas like no one else can.

Overall, I like the idea of these magazines. I like a non-screen based mechanism for bringing people together. I like the idea of a platform that tells people about their neighbors and what is going on in their area.

The articles I created for these monthly magazines were about all things birds. I wrote about bird identification, behavior, ecology, conservation, and other related topics. Birding is one of my big passions, and sharing knowledge and enjoyment of birds is another.

In response to the protests for racial equality that began earlier this year, I wrote and submitted an article on racism, racism in the birding community, and in the lack of representation and diversity in the naming of birds. The article will appear as part 2, so stay tuned.

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On October 3rd, 2020 I took part in a very unusual bird-a-thon.

The Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is an event I have been participating in for about 20 years, now, and have written about numerous times on this blog (see the links at the bottom of this post to read some of them). The team I bird with is named the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, and we are the longest running youth bird-a-thon team I know of. I started as a youth member of the team, and have now been the team leader for the past few years. It is a great team of very talented and passionate young birders.

The usual plan for the Sanderlings is to gather very early one morning in late September or early October in Marin County, and spend the entire day darting all over the county to find as many species of bird as we possibly can. It is always exhausting and exciting and terrific!

However, as with some many other aspects of life, 2020 is different. Instead of meeting in-person Point Blue decided on a few different ways for people to participate in the event. The Sanderlings decided to each go out and bird, and then combine each of our individual totals. This is not at all comparable to past bird-a-thon years since each team member would be in a different area and have access to different habitats with different species. But it is still a great way to go birding and raise funds for a terrific organization!

For myself, I decided to set a challenge of birding within the city limits of my home town, West Sacramento, CA. Unfortunately, the wildfires that are burning across much of state made the air quality pretty bad, so I was not able to stay out and bird for the whole day.

But, my West Sac Big (half)Day was still a fun challenge! I ended up finding 82 species! Some of my highlights included a late Barn Swallow; a single Greater White-fronted Goose; a wonderful mixed flock of Savannah Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Western Bluebirds, and Say’s Phoebes; a really spectacular Yellow Warbler that let me get really close; a handful of Blue-winged Teal mixed in among hundreds of Cinnamon Teal; lots of Lincoln’s Sparrows throughout the day; a flock of Sandhill Cranes bugling as they flew overhead; and stumbling upon a small flock of Least Sandpipers. Some notable species that I missed included Osprey, Fox Sparrow, and many of waterfowl that I thought I would get such as Snow Goose, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Gadwall.

This event ended up being a lot of fun even though it was a half day because of smoke and I was alone because of COVID-19. I am definitely interested in trying the West Sac Big Day again. Maybe in a different season (I think winter would probably get me the highest species total), and definitely for a whole day.

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear a mask.

Here are some other posts on the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings:

https://abirdingnaturalist.wordpress.com/2019/11/13/the-2019-drakes-beach-sanderlings-bird-a-thon-report/

https://abirdingnaturalist.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/the-drakes-beach-sanderlings-rogue-year/

https://abirdingnaturalist.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/why-i-bird-a-thon/

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Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler 01

An adult male Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler

In my December article for Berkeley Hills Living, Montclair Living, and Piedmont Living magazines, I decided to focus on the Yellow-rumped Warbler and the idea that this one species may be split into several. Take a look!

2019.12 BerkeleyHillsLiving_Final2019

 

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Phoebes 02

A Black Phoebe

I have been writing a monthly article for a set of three neighbor magazines for the past couple of years now. These magazines are distributed to a handful of east bay neighborhoods. I have shared one or two of the articles in previous posts, and am thinking of doing so more regularly, so here is the article on Phoebes that I wrote for the November issue of Berkeley Hills Living, Monclair Living, and Piedmont Living magazines.

Berkeley Hills Living – November 2019 Issue

Phoebes 01

A Say’s Phoebe

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Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon 2019 logoPoint Blue Conservation Science has a blog called Science for a Blue Planet that highlights the great work done by this organization. The blog post reporting on the 2019 Bird-a-thon features the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings!  It is really wonderful to get this kind of acknowledgement, and exciting that the Sanderlings might be the high species total winner this year!

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Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon 2019 logo

What a day! What a day! What a day! The Drakes’ Beach Sanderlings participated again in the Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon on October 5th. The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings, which is Point Blue Conservation Science’s longest running youth bird-a-thon team, was a bird finding machine! Thanks to our amazing donors, our team raised over $2,500 this year! To each of our sponsors, thank you so much for your support!

IMG_20191005_122800

The 2019 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings birding on Drake’s Beach (from left to right: Susie, Max L., Oscar, Max B., Eddie, Connor, Lucas, and Aaron)

As usual, our day began very early. At 5:15am, and in the 39°F chill of the pre-dawn morning, we met at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. The sky was spectacularly clear which made for beautiful star-gazing but did not bode well for finding migrants later in the day. As soon as we got out of our cars, we realized we were surrounded by Great Horned Owls, and after a bit of listening, we added Spotted Owl to our list for the day! A good start!

The team stopped by Olema Marsh which irrupted in a cacophony of Virginia Rails as soon as we clapped for them! We then sped off to Five Brooks Pond where we tried to find more owls while it was still dark. As dawn approached, we were treated to a terrific mixed flock of Bushtits, both species of Kinglet, and lots and lots of Townsends Warblers. We then drove past Bolinas Lagoon and birded Stinson Beach.

Leaving Stinson Beach we broke into the Oreos and headed for the Outer Point! It was still early, and a quick overview of the species list showed that we had already found over 100 species by the time we reached the Outer Point! This put us ahead of schedule on both time and species.

Confirming our concerns from the morning, the clear skies the night before resulted in there being no vagrant birds anywhere on the Outer Point, though there were tons of Red-breasted Nuthatches. It was somewhat frustrating to find no unusual birds at Chimney Rock or Drake’s Beach, but we did not get too attached to birding the area and left to head east. We did stop at an overlook near Chimney Rock to find Black Oystercatchers and got to watch a pod of Humpbacked Whales feeding off the coast.

IMG_20191005_115137.jpg

Drake’s Beach Sanderlings team members Max L., Oscar, Max B., and Connor searching for Black Oystercatchers near Chimney Rock.

The team then started zig-zagging across the east half of the county picking up more bird species all along the way. We certainly had some ups and downs. We made some targeted stops for particular species that mostly worked in our favor. The ponds at the Las Gallinas Water Treatment Plant were the emptiest I have ever seen them, but a quick change of course to the Hamilton Wetlands was gangbusters! As usual, we ended at our customary final stop at an east San Rafael marsh where the Ridgeway’s Rails were calling before we even got out of the car!

Over the course of the day, the team moved incredibly efficiently. When a site was not producing the species we were hoping for, we quickly made decisions to abandon those stops and to go look elsewhere. The knowledge of all the team members came together to produce a cornucopia of species even though we did not find a single species that would be considered noteworthy for Marin County. The list we ended up with included 162 species as a group, and 2 more that were only seen by a single team member and so don’t quite count! The full list is on the next page. We all had an amazing day. We enjoyed every bird, ate a lot of cookies, and shared a lot of stories and knowledge. All the things that make the Sanderlings great!

I want to thank all those who supported this team. The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings is a very special group that I am honored to lead, and passionate to see continue. With the support of our sponsors, we all help promote bird conservation and climate science, and also something more. We help to show the role that young people can play. Bringing in funding in an event like this reminds the world, and the birding community in particular, that dedicated young birders can and do make significant contributions to the cause of protecting our world. I hope that all our sponsors return next year to support us again, and all those who did not sponsor us this year will consider joining the cause next year. I can’t wait!

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Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon 2019 logo

Dear Sponsor,

The Drake’s Beach Sanderlings was the first, and is the longest running, youth Bird-a-thon team that the Point Reyes Bird Observatory has ever organized. I was one of the founding youth members and am now the team leader.

Since its beginning, the Sanderlings have established a very successful tradition of crisscrossing Marin County every fall, finding as many bird species as possible in twenty-four hours, and raising money for bird research and conservation. During the 2018 bird-a-thon, the Sanderlings were particularly successful when we found more bird species than any other team that year! Over the years our team members have changed as our youths get older, move away, or enter college. Wherever they have spread, Sanderlings members carry a passion for birds and nature with them that was, in part, nurtured by our team.

We are now preparing for our 2019 bird-a-thon! To support this team, I would like to invite you to become a sponsor of the Sanderlings. Your support sends a powerful message to the birding community that a team of young people can make an important contribution to bird conservation. This year, the Sanderlings bird-a-thon will be on October 5th. When you become a sponsor, I will be sure to let you know how the day goes.

Becoming a sponsor is easy! Just go to: https://pointblue.securesweet.com/contribute_paymentspring.asp?userid=1&fundid=832 and enter your info, or follow the QR code, below. I hope you are able to support this wonderful team. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

 

Sincerely,

Aaron

Drake’s Beach Sanderlings Team Leader

QR Code - blog

Sanderlings 2018 Team Photo

The 2018 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings.

 

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In 1982, the year I was born, there were only 22 California Condors alive in the world. Those 22 birds were all that remained of a population that once spanned the western US, and bits of Canada and Mexico. The Condor population plummeted as a result of lead poisoning, hunting, habitat loss and pollution.

California Condor 01

Geographic range of the California Condor in the 1880s

By 1987, the world population of California Condors was 27 birds. Since the causes of the California Condor decline were distinctly human activities, it only seemed appropriate for humans to step up and attempt to fix what they had broken. To that end, the 27 birds were captured and taken into a captive breeding program run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The goal of that captive breeding program was to first raise Condors and establish multiple captive breeding populations, and then to establish multiple wild populations. It was an ambitious plan.

Over the last 37 years, the program has overcome countless challenges from figuring out how to hatch condor eggs, to how to raise babies that will grow into wild adults, to teaching those young adults to find food. California Condors are not fast breeders. A pair will only lay one egg each year, and they sometimes skip years. The young birds take several years to grow and gain full independence, and will begin to breed after about five years. It has taken extensive amounts of money and time, but success after success have become realities.

California Condor 03

An adult California Condor

A small number of captive breeding populations were established in zoos raptor breeding facilities. In 1992, Condors began to be released into the wild. Additional releases established small populations in California, Arizona, Utah, and Mexico.

Now a new milestone has been reached. In March of this year, the 1000th California Condor chick has hatched since 1987 when the captive breeding population was initiated. This brings the living population to around 500 individuals, since numerous chicks, juveniles, and adults have died in the last 37 years. The 1000th chick hatched in the wild to a pair of Condors living in Zion National Park in Utah.

A population of 500 individuals is still not big enough to be out of danger of extinction, and as such are still protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. But it is certainly a wonderful accomplishment, and the 1000th chick born is also a occasion to be celebrated. Hopefully, the California Condor population will continue to grow, and the amazing birds, the largest in North America, with their 9 foot wingspans will be circling 15,000 feet over our heads in greater numbers and across greater areas as the next 37 years unfold.

California Condor 02

 

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