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Archive for the ‘Outreach’ Category

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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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!

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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.

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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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I spent the 4th of July weekend camping with my family at one of my favorite spots. Domingo Spring in Lassen National Forest. I first visited this site during my graduate school work where I was recording the calls of Evening Grosbeaks, and I have returned regularly ever since. The campground, set among jumbled piles of volcanic rocks and large conifer trees, is immediately beside a wet meadow that Domingo Creek runs through. Near the entrance of the campground is the source of Domingo Creek, and the campground’s namesake, Domingo Spring. This spring is one of the few places I know of where one can drink right out of the land. In my mind, that makes this a very special spot, indeed. We also drove to Willow Lake for part of one day which was lovely. Willow Lake has a floating sphagnum bog where a couple of native species of carnivorous plants grow wild.

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My brother birding Domingo Spring

The days we spent camping were filled with birds, a lake visit, walks throughout the surrounding meadows, lots of cooking over the fire, singing, talking politics, reading the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, drawing, and so much more! One bird encounter that was really wonderful was our neighbors in the campground. A pair of Cassin’s Vireos had a nest about 25 feet up a ponderosa pine tree at the edge of our campsite where four nestlings eagerly gobbled down each of the insects their parents delivered. Many Western Tanagers, including a lot of newly fledged birds, were also around this year.

The full species list for birds included: Mallard, Common Nighthawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, Turkey Vulture, Great Horned Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Stellar’s Jay, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House Wren, American Robin, Cassin’s Vireo, Evening Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Cassin’s Finch, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and Western Tanager.

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My daughter holding a Pacific Tree Frog

We also had some nice herpetological encounters. I caught a small Mountain Gartersnake, and my wife and daughter caught a Pacific Tree Frog. Oddly, we did not see any gartersnakes are Willow Lake. In the past we have often seen them swimming in the lake as they hunt for minnows in the water, sometimes around our feet. This year, the water was much more turbid that it usually is (a result of the fairly recent snow melt?), and maybe this made the water less appealing as hunting grounds for the snakes that are pretty visual predators.

Mountain Gartersnake - Domingo Spring - 20190705

Mountain Gartersnake

Mammals we saw included Mule Deer, California Groundsquirrel, Golden-mantled Groundsquirrel, Douglas Squirrel, and Allen’s Chipmunk.

I very much look forward to the next time I return to Domingo Spring to enjoy the mountains and drink from the rocks.

 

 

 

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Homosexuality has been observed is just about every species it has been looked for. Transgender animals are not as widely known, but may just be a matter of looking for them.

There are certainly some animal examples that are various forms of transgender animals in nature. One is the California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) which is a fish that is born female, and then can become male later in life. Another example is found in the Green Frog (Rana clamitans) that reverse sex in response to various external factors, and this has been observed in other amphibians as well. But both of these examples are in lineages of animals that are pretty distantly related to us humans.

lionesses-with-manes

Photo of two lions one is male sex (left), one is female sex (right), but both display male characteristics.

Well, research published a couple of years ago in the African Journal of Ecology is an example much closer to us. In a paper by Gilfillan et al. from the University of Sussex, five lionesses in Botswana have been observed to grow manes, regularly roar and scent mark, mount other females, and display other very male-like behaviors such as killing the cubs of rival prides which females lions just about never do but is very common for male lions.

This is a mammal we are talking about.

Lions that are female in body, but male in behavior.

In the wild.

Still think being transgender is unnatural?

Transgender Flag

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