On September 22, 2014 at 6pm at Grumpy's in Roseville, MN we will have a Birds and Beers in conjunction with Minnesota Dragonflies Society wants to join us for a Birds and Beers to kickstart their D&D (Dragonflies&Drinks). Birds and Beers is a low-key event that brings birders of all abilities to get together
I'll be a little late because there's also a multi-author book signing at Barnes and Noble in Roseville with Jan Dunlap, Sharon Stiteler, Clay Christensen, Laura Erickson and Stan Tekiela-- at 7pm. My plan is to be there until 8pm and drag some of these authors with me to Birds and Beers. But if you want to get a head start on some holiday shopping, come check us out and get some bird and nature books signed for friends and family and then go have a good time Birds and Beers.
And Jan Dunlap said that she's going to use this night as an opportunity to release her latest birder murder mystery series called Swift Justice. Rumor has it that I'm a character in the book, can't wait to see how that played out. When she asked if she could use me as a character, I told her that she could use me in only one of three ways...curious and excited to find out how she used me.
The first thing you need to know about visiting BirdFair is that it is not really about bird watching. Pretty much all of the birding events we have in the US are all about the field trips, afternoon workshops, interesting keynotes and maybe a small vendor area (maybe). Even though BirdFair is held at Rutland Water--a great little place to go birding in and of itself, people are there to shop.
The optics areas are set up the facing water so you can test out binoculars and scopes on waterfowl and shorebirds, but if this is a first time trip to Europe or the UK and you need to get some lifers, plan on arriving a few days before BirdFair and get your birding out of your system ahead of time. Sure, there are opportunities to do some birding there, but this event is so huge and so jam packed, don't waste your time hunting down what might be lifer blue tit when those are pretty much everywhere.
I mentioned earlier that I used the new Collins app for my trip. I also downloaded a Bird Song app for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Since my travel has exploded the last couple of years (I was in Europe twice last year and will be doing at least two trips this year and chances are good I'll be in Israel again next spring) this seemed like a good way to go because it covers so many countries.
It's an expensive app at about $79 but if you consider all the area it covers and that each bird in at has several calls, a sonogram to help you remember the call and comparisons to similar species--it is the most comprehensive bird song app I've ever seen. Pricey, but worth it if you are going to be in both Europe and northern Africa (consider how much you spend on field guides).
The BirdFair website is very helpful for locating accommodations. I didn't have huge amounts of money to spend in the UK but I found the Oakham boarding school fine for my needs. They were nice, clean and comfortable dorm style rooms with decent wifi. There's a shared shower and toilet (just like in dorms). The doors to the dorm buildings are locked with a code that you have to use whether you are entering the building or leaving. Dorm rooms themselves do not have locks, but you have the option of renting the locks. Most people I know opted not to rent the locks, feeling that birders are a trustworthy group. I chose not to have a lock and on my last day found a very..."interesting" card in my room. No writing, but strange little smiling creatures pasted on it. I asked the staff if maybe it came from the cleaning person but they were as perplexed by it as I was by it. Was it from a fellow guest and meant as a bit fun? Who can say, but finding it placed next to my laptop did make me think twice about getting a lock next time I stay in Oakham.
The school provides a light breakfast of breads, cereal and milk in the morning and appeared to have a coffee and tea service running all day. The staff was very kind and helpful if you needed advice on travel and food around the area. Oakham is very close to Rutland, I think it was about a 5 minute shuttle ride to and from the fair.
I chose not to drive in the UK. I just didn't think my jet lagged brain could handle a steering wheel on the right side of a car as well as navigating driving in the opposite lane. I relied on friends driving me rides to and from bus stations to Rutland. It is possible to travel to BirdFair via train for bus and Google maps is helpful in revealing the route (though not always clarifying the prices). But getting around the town itself is quite easy and if you are really hard pressed for a lift, there are affordable taxis. All of the taxis I took in the UK were cash only affairs--make sure to have pounds (not Euros) on hand and don't rely that everyone takes credit cards like they do on the US.
A tip I picked up from Nature Travel Network is that if it rains at BirdFair--things get muddy. It's on a wetland after all. Really comfortable shoes are a must for all the walking, but if it rains, you want to be prepared for muddy conditions and puddles. Locals appeared to be wearing their best Wellingtons. I opted for Keens and they worked just fine.
When I visited, the temps were very cool--in the 50s and 60s. But the tents were warm. Be prepared for a continual shift in temperature based in you are inside or outside a tent--wear layers.
Thanks to the encouragement of UK birder Drunk Birder, we gave a Birds and Beers a go in Oakham. We chose The Three Crowns, a Steamin' Billy pub. There had been some confusion in the emails as I made arrangements and I was sad to discover that the pub didn't have menu (out side of chips aka crisps). The manager felt bad about the confusion and went away to purchase us something called a huntsman's pie that was delish:
Huntsman's pie isn't vegetarian or gluten free, but for an omnivore--it's fantastic. The pastry is full of pork with a poultry later and then then stuffing. I discovered that I think piccalilli (a yellow mustard pickle combo) is the best thing ever. I had only ever heard of it from the "I'm a Little Weenie Lookin' for a Bun" song.
But I loved hanging out in a small pub in Oakham. Locals came in with their dogs! I love that there were about four or five dogs chasing and playing in the pub (and sneaking up for a nibble of food). I chatted with some of the locals and met one who said he'd been to BirdFair in the past but didn't go every year. No one was viewed as a "birder" in the UK, birding is just part of the culture. OK, maybe extreme twitchers get a look, but people who watch birds from time to time are viewed about the same as hunters or a football fan is over here.
A local brewery provides a BirdFair Bitter during the event, make sure to have some time to grab one of those--a very bold and flavorful ale.
One last thing, a pro tip from a local--leave your own binoculars at home or at the very least, in your hotel room when visiting BirdFair. People who wear their gear around the fair are viewed as "posers." A well seasoned BirdFair attendee told me, "You can tell who the serious birders are at BirdFair, they don't wear their binoculars to show off. They are here to look at products."
I just wanted to go to BirdFair in the UK, enjoy a few days in London on a mini break with my husband, come home and write some articles in a mild jet lag haze, reset my body clock and instead...I had to deal with you because you decided to go all "arty" on us.
For those who don't know, here's why the shiny, clear glass is the problem with the new stadium design. Here's an easy, energy efficient alternative that will kill fewer birds.
The new Vikings' Stadium that is less than a mile from the Mississippi River aka the 35W of midwest bird migration and the Minnesota Sports Facility Association opted to not to go with energy efficient (and Minnesota made) fritted glass on the 200,000 square feet on the building. Even though the Minneapolis City Council approved a resolution urging the MSFA to use bird friendly glass. At first it was implied by the Vikings that this was a money issue and would cost just under a million dollars which was one tenth of one percent of the overall budget for the stadium.
And then the announcement came that the budget for the stadium was going to go past the billion dollar mark for things like extra freight elevators and escalators. OK...and the glass?
Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson tweeted that now the glass isn't a money issue, it's an aesthetic issue. Are you kidding me?
My inbox blew up a little bit while I was away and Audubon Minnesota planned to drop off some signatures to Governor Mark Dayton and invited me along. I looked at my travel schedule and thought, "Yeah, I can do that." Then I sat in on a conference call yesterday and found out that I wasn't just attending, I was going to say a few words...hoo boy.
Rolf Thompson from the National Eagle Center made the two hour drive up from Wabasha to speak up Matt Anderson from Minnesota Audubon and many of his staffers were there to speak to the media and show some of the fritted glass options. Other bird lovers around the Twin Cities also showed up--those of us with flexible Tuesday mornings.
Audubon Minnesota brought along some of the beautiful and gut-wrenching photography of artist Miranda Brandon. She's done surveys for dead and injured birds around building and took photos of some of the dead birds to illustrate what happens when birds impact windows during migration.
Think about a ruby-throated hummingbird like the one in the above photo. If you see that bird in May in Minnesota, that bird has already crossed the Gulf of Mexico on its own two wings, twice at least. If it's older than one year, it's done it several times. How frustrating to find one dead from hitting a window in Minnesota in May. It has returned all that way from South America to breed in Minnesota (or a little further north) only to have its journey end abruptly against some glass in a death that could have been preventable. That's what the new Vikings Stadium will do with the glass they've chosen for "aesthetics." And not just to hummingbirds but robins, warblers, vireos, raptors, woodcocks--all sorts of species.
These signatures are not saying that football sucks and we shouldn't have a stadium. What the signatures are saying is that the type of aesthetic we want to see is a 64 yard touchdown run--not bright shiny glass that is lethal to birds, we just want a stadium where we can watch football without feeling guilty about the impact on birds. People are there to watch a game, not the glass.
So please, contact Governor Mark Dayton and let him know that this issue is important and that he needs to direct the people he appointed to the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority to do the right thing and switch to bird-safe glass which will be energy efficient and more cost effective in the long run.
One of the really cool things I saw at BirdFair didn't necessarily have to do with birding--it's the Pentax Ricoh which takes a crazy spherical image that uses an app to let you rotate and sling the spherical panorama image around--it's really cool. I'd love to have one of these and put in the center of a bird feeder or better yet in the middle of some caracaras at the Martin Ranch in Texas--wouldn't that be a cool perspective? But I wanted to use this to give a sense of the scope of vendors and people at BirdFair. But as much as BirdFair is about businesses selling products and services, it's also about passion and connection (jet lag must be settling in because I find myself saying that like Mooj in 40 Year Old Virgin in my head).
But it's true, it's that passion and connection that also makes it such a brilliant fundraising event. Hats off to founders Tim Appleton and Martin Davies for organizing such the fair with a crackerjack network of volunteers (and thank you Tina Lindsay for answering all of my questions before I arrived). But the money raised from attendance tickets and booths makes it possible for BirdFair to donate large sums of money to conservation projects around the world.
As much fun as it is to learn about birding field trip opportunities in Norway, you can also learn about the efforts to create beautiful architecturally designed blinds or hides used (check them out, they are so cool) to watch the birds in the area--especially the sea duck hide, man oh man, we need one of those for my National Park!
But BirdFair is a great place to be inspired for ideas. Typically the companies you see at US trade shows are generally from Central and South America--at BirdFair, the companies are world wide: Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Israel, Ecuador, Panama and quite often it's not just the eco-tourism lodges or bird tour operators, it's also representatives of the government there to speak with you. And you get a global perspective.
I was very excited to see my friend Jonathan Meyrav who I met a few years ago while birding the Hula Valley in Israel. He's a loud and hardworking voice for this migratory hot spot and always generating ideas on how to help the birds he loves and shares with his family and friends. This past spring he organized the Champions of the Flyway, a big day aimed at raising money for a specific conservation project which for 2014 was Bird Conservation Georgia. I wanted to participate in that event, but I'd already scheduled myself for 5 other projects. So Jonathan and I talked about ideas for 2015 and whether I participate in the event or not, how I can help the cause. The thing I love about Jonathan is if he has a successful idea, he's not into hoarding it just for his area, he spreads the passion and love around. He learns from others and tells you what worked for his country and how that might apply to bird conservation in your own country--he's refreshing and inspiring to be around. Here's a fun 8 minute video that gives an overview--check out, the birds are bananas. And the end of it was the best use of Daft Punk I've ever seen.
Champions of the Flyway may also be one of the most diverse gatherings of birders I've seen--which is cool. I really like that I'm not the only female birder out there doing these sorts of things. I have an idea for a team I'd like to assemble for 2015, we will see if it happens.
The birding is certainly more intense in the UK and this booth based on the book series The Sound Approach uses sonograms to teach you bird songs. You listen to the calls as you read and kind of learn to see them rather than hear them. They are only available for Europe but if you were going over there, this might be a good way to brush up. Incidentally, these are co-authored by the founder of Lush Cosmetics...
Here's the new Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World a complete checklist whose taxonomy and contains illustrations and distribution maps for every bird species in the world. It's huge, it's beautiful, it isn't cheap and surely there won't be any changes, splits, lumps or elimination in the near future making it obsolete...right? I love the idea of an illustrated world checklist, but with how often taxonomy changes, why not make this digital so you can get the up to date changes?
So one of the things that I've heard from British birders who visit the states is how surprised they are to see so many women engaged in the activity in the US. And not just in a backyard birding capacity, but serious listing. As I walked around BirdFair, the sexes seemed to be evenly split. I mentioned this to my friend John and he said, "Nope, those are girls dragged along by their boyfriends or husbands."
I don't think that was 100% true, I did see some women paired off and heard them actively discussing birding in remote locations, but there were a few booths that I would visit and patiently wait for one of the booth attendants to be freed up so I could ask my questions and I would get, "You ok?"
Taking that as a cue for conversation, I would say "Yes," and before I could get further than that word, they would spin around and talk to the next available male customer in the booth (even if he arrived at the booth after I did). I was immediately dismissed as the "girlfriend" who would be a waste of time to talk to. As a former retailer, I could kind of understand--several times you've engaged in conversation with women only to have them say, "Yeah, I'm just here with my boyfriend." That would be frustrating. But on the other hand, I didn't care for the immediate dismissal. So at a few booths I found that I had to be a bit aggressive to show that yes, indeed, despite being female I am very interested in birding products and travel and yes, I am not afraid to travel to places where I might get dirty.
The Art Marquee was full of all kinds of art and photography. I wasn't allowed to use my camera in there, but walked around and took it in. I passed a booth and immediately recognized the prints of Katrina van Grouw who wrote one of my favorite books of 2013 The Unfeathered Bird.
I thought, "Oh cool, someone is selling her work!"
And then I realized...she was herself. And the prints were signed...and so I dropped some money that Non Birding Bill doesn't need to know about and purchased the above print of a budgie. I tried not to geek out too hard and I hope I didn't freak her out. But that was a real treat to be able to purchase a print from her in person and tell her how much I loved that book. Can't wait to get it framed and get it on the wall next to my Catherine Hamilton sketch.
There are lectures going on throughout the day at BirdFair. Some are twenty minute workshops on anything from photography, bird in different areas and conservation efforts. I did one of those on Smart Phone Digiscoping. Others are longer and a bit more entertaining, like Bill Oddie interviewing a woman who composes music for David Attenborough documentaries. I was part of one of those called A Question of Stork hosted by Stephen Moss. Above is the photo of my team and our opposing time was Matt Merritt, Bill Thompson (fun to run into him while across the pond) and Martin Davies. I was nervous about a quiz show thinking I wouldn't have much to contribute to worldwide birding but I was assured this was all about fun and improv and I thought, oh this is like some of the shows NBB and I do here like You're Making That Up or PowerPoint Karaoke and it's more about being funny than right.
It was clear about three questions in, you needed to answer correctly. But I did know a couple of obscure book and "famous" birder questions so I wasn't a complete loss to the team. My favorite part was the when one of our teammates had to mime to get us to guess a bird. That was hilarious and I'll never think of masked booby the same ever again. We lost by one point but I think people were entertained.
More on BirdFair is coming. This event is so huge, it cannot be covered in one post. And if you haven't caught on yet, it's a really cool event...and you should find a way to go.
Ever since I heard of the British BirdFair I've wanted to go. Being social and a lover of birding, I knew it was right up my alley. But I was also curious about a birding event that boasts attendance of well over 20,000 people a year.
I can tell you now that it was amazing and if you are interested in birding, go. Find a way to do it: give up daily coffees at a coffee bar and brew your own, cut back on trips out to eat at restaurants, do a Kickstarter, shift vacation plans from Florida in February to a trip to the UK in August, tell family and friends that during holidays and birthdays in lieu of gifts, you want cash or air miles--just go. BirdFair is a must, not only for the chance to see really cool products, but to experience a truly world wide crowd of people who care about birds and conservation. You can not only "buy stuff" but you learn from what other countries are doing to help birds. I cannot recommend a trip to BirdFair enough.
The photo at the top of this blog encompasses the spirit of the fair. In their Andalucia booth, Peter and one of his guides share cheese, wine, chorizo and tomatoes from their birding area in southern Spain with past trip participants. I met Peter Jones in Israel a few years ago and when I passed, he insisted that I join them for tapas. It was delightful to meet their British tour participants and learn more about birding opportunities and conservation challenges in Andalucia.
You can purchase passes per day or get a three day wrist band. I knew with my ability to talk and the chance to see old friends, I would need a full three days. My initial plan was to do a fast circuit the first morning, noting where friends had booths and noting which booths I wanted to chat and spend more time with and learn about their product and services. Or to just find surprises that I didn't know I wanted. I also knew that if I didn't do a quick once over, and did it marquee by marquee, I would feel rushed with whoever I chatted with and be thinking, "This is great, but I wonder what's in the next marquee, I need to wrap this up."
After that I grabbed a pork roll and a BirdFair Bitter (a flavorful sturdy ale) and circled who I wanted to go back to in the program (programs cost a pound and are well worth it, though there's lots of signage to help get you with scheduling as well), I created a strategy for each day. Even with that plan, I was unable to hit all the booths I intended, but that may have more to do with me being a chatty gal, especially when I find friends I haven't seen in years or friends I've only known online and met for the first time face to face.
There truly is a little bit of everything at BirdFair from backyard birding like the above very unique bird houses...
To hip gear for the birding lifestyle...
To cameras (all the top brands were there)...
To just about every optics manufacturerer you can imagine...
To birding tour companies and a lot of government tourism boards...
To books! This book cracked me up. It's nothing but rare bird accounts for Norfolk. I love that this book exists, I love that it is so specific to just Norfolk. I loved reading all of the accounts of the first time the bird was spotted. We need more books like this in the US. A fun read with valuable information...but not too dry.
I was incredibly surprised to find my book at one of the booths. I brought a couple along "just in case" but to find it out on the table, prominently propped up was a huge and delightful surprise. If I had more room in my suitcase, I would have spent way more money at BirdFair. Not only did they have new books, but they had used book dealers and I have a fondness for early 20th century bird books. Ah well, next time...
So this is entry one for BirdFair. There will be more. Non Birding Bill and I are currently galavanting around London and he really doesn't want me spending our vacation time writing about how fabulous BirdFair was. I'm going to break down the next two posts about it into logistics of getting there and then some of the amazing things that I saw like this:
They had scotch tastings at some of the booths! And not just cheap scotch, nice scotch. I actually saved visiting the Islay birding booth for a scotch tasting so that way I could ask legit questions about bringing a tour there and not just be a lurker for some Laphroaig...but they seemed just as eager to sip than ask questions so after some information, we settled in to sipping and exchanged emails for later. I understood, it was a long day and this was a nice way to relax.
I'm busy getting all the last minute laundry, packing and travel arrangements finalized as I head to BirdFair in the UK for the first time. I'm so excited because I have always wanted to go this event and I even get to do an iPhone digiscoping presentation on Saturday as well as partake in an improv game called a Question of Stork.
I'm excited to see old and new friends and to make Birds and Beers officially international by having one thanks to the aid of Drunk Birder on Friday night at 7pm at the Three Crowns! I think we will be two peas in a pod. When all the bird fun is over, I get to meet Non Birding Bill in London for some fun.
Also, just in time for my trip across the pond comes the Collins Bird Guide app to all of Europe, based on the best-selling Collins Bird Guide, by Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterström, lucky me! I have to admit, I was leery because BirdFair isn't really about going on field trips, it's about looking at birding products and services. After the fair, I'm going to meet Non Birding Bill in London to visit with friends and not really do that much birding. Would this be more bird info than I would need. Should I just take a little British Guide with me instead?
But, the app lets you tailor your location and list of possible birds. If you are like me and just studying from somewhere in the states, you can tap the map of Europe of where you plan to be (and note the season) to get a list of likely birds. If you are already in Europe, you can use the location services of the app to pinpoint where you are as well as the time of year to generate the likely species.
When you see a bird you can't identify, most apps will allow you to create a list of possible suspects based size, shape, habitat, colors, etc. This app will also let you type in specific types of field marks which is pretty darned cool. One of the reasons I really like the Sibley app is that you can compare two species at once, this app will let you compare up to 6 different plumages at once--which will please the European warbler watchers.
The Collins app is a comprehensive European guide with over 700 species, 750 recordings of songs and calls, over 3500 illustrations and 60 videos of common birds--because sometimes you need to see the wagging tail of a wagtail to make sure that yep, that is like the most common bird over in Europe and the have some variation and that is indeed the bird that I saw. The app is £12.99 which in the grand scheme of field guide apps is par for the course. If you are going to Europe and you don't want to take a book but want to know what birds you will see, it's worth a download on an Apple device.
An article on National Geographic that starts off with, "Bird-watchers over 50 weren't as proficient as younger volunteers—those under 40—at detecting 13 (of 43 examined) songbird species during surveys for the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario in Canada."
As you can imagine, some birders aren't taking it well. I think all we can do is:
We had some positive news over the weekend in regards to the new Vikings Stadium glass design and the seeming unwillingness of stadium officials to change to energy efficient glass. First, I couldn't believe how many people really listened to my segment on MPR's All Things Considered. The Twin Cities annual Fringe Festival is going on which I volunteer for if I'm not in a show and so many people have come up and said, "Oh, I heard that segment and that makes total sense."
The other exciting news is that the Minneapolis City Council voted in favor of a resolution urging the Vikings to use bird safe glass. Yes, it's "urging" and not forcing, but it's still better than the City Council saying, "Meh, who cares?" It's letting the Vikings know that this is a town that cares about birds as well as football.
But Jim Williams over at the Star Tribune pointed out something very important, "The Metropolitan Sports Facility Authority was established with the specific purpose of guiding construction to completion. It would make the decision to change glass to bird-friendly."
You guys, we are so close to getting this stadium done right. I've asked a lot of you to listen, to contact whoever you know in the media or Minneapolis City Council and we've done a great job of building momentum. We just need to contact the MSFA and let them know that we are people who are excited for a new stadium, we enjoy football and we want that state of the art football facility to be an example of how you can build something cool without killing thousands of birds a year.
Please, send an email or call one (or many) of the people listed to below to let them know that we want to watch football in a stadium with energy efficient glass that happens to be easier for flying birds to avoid. It's less than one tenth of one percent of their overall budget. If you live in Minneapolis, this point out that your tax dollars and city money are going to the construction. We want the best for us, our team and our birds.
Michele Kelm-Helgen, Chair
Ted Mondale, CEO/Executive Director
Steve Maki, P.E., Senior Stadium Director
Mary Fox-Stroman, CPA, Director of Finance
Bobbi Ellenberg, Director of Business Operations
Jennifer Hathaway, Director of Communications
Alex Tittle, Equity Director
Donovan Jones, Equity Specialist
Tiffany Orth, Project Coordinator for the MSFA Board
Amy Quaintance, Senior Executive Assistant
Leo Pidde, Technical Services Manager