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The great black hawk that’s been in Maine is in wildlife rehab with frostbite. What will it’s future be?
The raven and snowy owl video we referenced in the podcast.
We started a Patreon!
The great black hawk that’s been in Maine is in wildlife rehab with frostbite. What will it’s future be?
The raven and snowy owl video we referenced in the podcast.
Hello! If you are here because of the KARE 11 or MPR segment, welcome! If you’re wondering about what the smart phone photography technique I was talking about, it’s known as digiscoping or phone scoping. It’s a way to use your smartphone with a spotting scope to take pictures and videos of birds and wildlife. You can learn more about the technique and the kit I use here. The case for my phone that I’m writing about is from a company called PhoneSkope.
Here’s a video I took of a northern hawk owl at the bog on Monday. This was taken with my iPhone in a PhoneSkope case and my Swarovski ATX spotting scope:
If you’re curious about “the bog” I referenced, that is Sax Zim Bog—a birding hot spot in Minnesota, especially in winter. You can find tons of great information at the Friends of Sax Zim Bog page. If you’ve never been, it’s best to hire a guide or consider going to the festival. The bog is large and without a strategy you can spend a lot of time driving without seeing any birds and wondering where to pee.
The bog is great birding year round, but there some birds that are easier to see in winter or can only be found there in winter. Target species for birders include (but is certainly not limited to) great gray owl, northern hawk owl, Canada jay, pine grosbeak, evening grosbeak, common redpolls, hoary redpolls, snowy owls, black-billed magpie and boreal chickadee. Several areas host bird feeders, some on private land, some on public. Friends of SZ has a great map pointing out the feeding stations. Some of the birds are after seed and others are after meat and fat in the form of chunks of venison.
I told my friends Gayle and Anne who dragged me out of my apartment for this day trip to listen for a “chick-a--shnee” sound instead of a “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” sounds. Among all of the black-capped chickadees in the bog is the browner boreal chickadee. We heard the bird but only caught barely a glimpse. We waited as long as we could but got the point where we needed to take the boardwalk back to the bathrooms. We carefully made our way back, keeping our eyes down to watch for icy patches when we heard a loud “CHICK-A-SHNEE!” There, about three feet from us on a feeder was the boreal chickadee. It was almost as if it was trying to tell us not to miss it.
We got good long looks and I had to back up down the trail so I could get a photo with my scope.
So if you’re looking for a unique way to spend the day, consider visiting Sax Zim Bog. Also, it’s worth it alone to see the face of your coworker when they ask what you did over the weekend and you answer, “I went up to a frozen bog to look for owls. “
After we saw the shoebill, I felt a weight come off of me in Uganda. I really, really wanted to see that bird. Of course I wanted to see many things, but that was the number one hope and Bird Uganda Safaris delivered. Even though my first look was at a distance I truly felt that I could really enjoy anything and everything because I saw my most wanted and didn’t have to stress if I would go home without it. It’s weird to pin so much hope on one species.
After the shoebill swamp we headed to Lake Mburo National Park where would stay at a Mantana Tented Camp. I wasn’t sure what the meant, but it sounded like an adventure. Along the way we would spot many birds and a few mammals. It was overwhelming because early on a bird trip everything is new and most likely a lifer, you’re not sure which species are going to be the common ones you see everywhere and which ones will be harder and that’s your one chance. Our guides Herbert and Davis from Bird Uganda Safaris also had the challenge of keeping us to schedule, but delighting in all of the things we were enjoying. But when we would stop for bathroom breaks we would always get fun birds.
Darkness descended as we entered Lake Mburo National Park and though we couldn’t see the landscape well we saw some mammals in our headlights. This park was where we got our first iconic African mammals like cape buffalo and zebras. When we arrived at the lodge, travel weary and hungry they gave us our keys and the rules of the tented camp. The biggest rule was that you were not allowed to leave your tent and walk the grounds without an escort. Not because you might be eaten by leopard, but because cape buffalo wander the grounds and if you surprise them you would be trampled. You can schedule staff to pick you up and there’s even a whistle in your tent in case you need help immediately. You blow on that and staff come running.
My porter carried my 50 pound suitcase on his head and with flashlights in hand we took the gravel trail to my tent. He showed me how to use the shower—I would schedule a time with him to fill the bucket with warm water and I’d have about 5 minutes to get clean. He also offered to spray my room with insecticide while I was at dinner for extra mosquito protection. I arranged for him to pick me up in twenty minutes and began to unpack. I suddenly heard a chirping noise and assumed it was a house gecko. Then I heard some fluttering.
To my surprise and delight, I had a lifer scarlet-chested sunbird in my bathroom. I think the bird had been roosting and my activity in the tent woke it up. It soon found a gap and flew out into the night. There were no outlets in my tent, though there were lights. Anything that I needed to charge, I would only be able to charge in the main lodge. At night I would plug in external batteries at the lodge to use the next day. I’d use my laptop to charge my phone. During the day I’d leave my laptop in the main lodge to charge.
During dinner we could order from the bar and we were served three course meals of soup, a main dish like chicken and rice and a dessert. Bats would zoom in and out of the darkness while we ate and discussed the next day’s itinerary. The hotel manager came by and asked if we would like to arrange a wake up call—if you’re phone was changing, you needed some type of alarm. We also had the option of getting our wake up call with fresh coffee or tea. I arranged for my wake up call with coffee and a fill up of warm water for the shower.
I was so overwhelmed by the beauty and fun of the day that I fell asleep on my very firm mattress as soon as my head hit the pillow while crickets sang around me. At about 4am some snorting outside my tent woke me up. It didn’t sound like angry snorting and I assumed they were some kind of wild boar and fell asleep. Two hours later my wake up call arrived with coffee and biscuits. What a treat! He ten filled my bucket with warm water. I opened the valve to get good and wet before shutting it off, lathered my hair with shampoo and my body with soap. I opened the valve again to rinse and shut it off. I added some conditioner to my hair and opened the valve until the water ran out and I was perfectly rinsed. It was an ideal shower.
I stood on my deck and watched the sun reveal the majestic landscape around me as I sipped rich coffee. All around me birdcalls filled the air. I love being in a country and listening to people speak in languages I’m not familiar with. I don’t enjoy that so much with birds. I want to know who the all are.
I got dressed and packed up my daily birding gear and made my way towards the main lodge. When I arrived a green-headed sunbird was fighting its reflection in one of the mirrors and adorable mousebirds were teed up. The expansive lush landscape was filled with new birds. We wanted to eat breakfast but so many birds were popping up and we had to see them all. It’s one of my favorite feelings, surrounded colorful landscapes and birds and being surrounded by fruit and coffee. Herbert kept us on task because we had a boat to catch, he made us finish our breakfasts and load up in the vehicles.
When we arrived at the boat launch, the sun was shining and the air was warming up. We had some time and while I lathered on more sunscreen, we got our fist looks at warthogs. I had no idea they were so cuddly with each other and that hey had to kneel with their front legs to eat vegetation! I made sure to take some video for Non Birding Bill (above). Barbets, starlings and swallows surrounded and delighted us. And then it was time to board.
I give a lot of boat programs in the US and personal floatation devices are mandatory. I have comfortable ones that were made specifically for women (thank you PFDiva). Personal floatation devices weren’t offered at Mabamba wetlands in our canoe but they were given to us for Lake Mburo. The PFDs we were offered the worst kind too—uncomfortable, ill-fitting and bulky. I decided to test the waters to see how hard they would enforce them. If a PFD doesn’t fit you properly they can be more of a hindrance in water than a life saving system. The boat captain strongly urged, but didn’t push it so I kept mine next to me. I was wondering if I should have made room in my suitcase for my personal PFD since we had so many boat trips in Uganda.
We explored the lake where we were dazzled by African fish eagles, malachite and pied kingfishers and African marsh-harried. Then I spotted my first hippo and forgot about birds. First there was one hippo in the middle of the lake… then they took us to a herd or bloat of hippos (how’s that for a collective noun).
If you watch Fiona videos you get the impression they are delightful creatures who want to splash around with us and get chin scratches. In the wild they are far more menacing and really want to kill anything that gets too close. We watched their faces and backs just break the surface and were surprised at how much they reminded us of whales with air blowing out of the water…from either end of the hippo. I watched people kayak this lake and as much as I love kayaking, I’d never kayak anyplace there were hippos.
As we cruised along the shore we found more secretive birds like white-backed night-heron, finfoot and giant kingfisher--check the eBird list for Michael O’Brien’s photo of the kingfisher. Imagine seeing a kingfisher that is the size of a crow. I almost wet myself.
As we kept near the shore we did find a common sandpiper bobbing on top of a rock near another finfoot. As we approached the finfoot the rock burst out of the water to reveal they were in fact a couple of hippos who were not happy with us. The boat backed up immediately and we survived.
We returned to land and explored more of the park both on foot and in our safari vehicles. Below are more photos of birds and animals we saw during our stay there. You can see our full eBird list an even more photos of Lake Mburo here. Our eBird lists for Mantana Tented Camp are here and here. And the lists from driving around the park are here, here and here.
The answer: head to you Uganda.
I’m a big fan of bullet journaling—I’m by no means anything like what you see on Pinterest, I’m a bit more basic and I find that this form of tracking creates some sort of order to the chaos of my brain when it comes to writing. Since I am no Catherine Hamilton, I don’t do much of the artistic side of it but I will decorate mine with stickers…especially bird stickers. I generally try to keep it to birds I’ve seen and place in weeks when I’m most like to see them. However this time last December a friend alerted me to shoebill stork stickers on Mochi Things.
I’d never seen a shoebill and had no plans in the foreseeable future for that to happen. But hey, how often do you see shoebill stickers? Thanks to their popularity on the Internet, they warrant their own stickers. Even my non birding friends were excited about them. So I ordered them and populated my bullet journal with them.
Then in May I got in touch with Herbert Byaruhanga from Bird Uganda Safaris and the opportunity to visit Uganda came. Giraffes, hippos, leopards, chimps and gorillas were possible…but so is the shoebill, which can be found in freshwater swamps in central Africa. I could barely think about this trip for months, even delaying vaccinations because I couldn’t believe it was real, something had to go wrong to make this not happen.
The very first full day of the trip was our chance at the shoebill. I worried that something would go wrong with my flights from Minneapolis to Chicago to Brussels to Kigali to Entebbe would go wrong and I’d be delayed and miss it. And then there was the general anxiety of will we get the bird or miss it…because there are over 450 birds to seen in Uganda, I’m not going to see them all. I’ll will have to dip on some.
But my flights were uneventful and after 24 hours of travel I found myself in Uganda crashing on a bed in a hotel room at 1am. The next morning I woke and met my travel companions for the next two weeks in the parking lot a motley crew of birders from the United States, the UK, Panama, Australia and Taiwan. Every movement was exciting and mostly likely a new bird. Herbert took us to breakfast and then we’d be off to the shoebill. Our poor servers couldn’t keep us in our seats to eat or drink because were glued to the window for things like vervet monkeys and shikras.
After breakfast we hit the roads to Mabamba Wetlands where would take large canoes with motorboats out into the wetlands to look for shoebills, malachite kingfishers, yellow-billed ducks, black crakes, African jacanas and anything else, it was all good.
We spend two hours in the wetland…and completely dipped on the shoebill. It was a disappointment and all part of the game but Herbert assured us that we would have other shoebill opportunities. He wouldn’t let us leave town without seeing one. And we did see the malachite kingfishers, jacanas and crakes, it was a lovely time. You can see the birds and some more photos at our eBird checklist.
Herbert took us out for some more excellent birding through the day and toward the end we stopped by Nabajjuzi Swamp because he had a lead on a shoebill. We scanned the swamp and did see it and we loaded into our vehicles to get to our next lodge. As we were on the busy roadway, Herbert gasped. He saw a shoebill. It was one of those sightings where only someone who sees this bird constantly and knows them so well that only they could spot them because this bird was far and hidden and we were going about 50mph. But we pulled over and everyone tried to get their glimpse of a lifer shoebill. I had a tough time because the vegetation is high and I am oh so short.
I looked around, I needed to be higher, but how. Then I looked at our super sturdy safari vehicles.
“Hey, Herbert, can I get on top of the truck to see the shoebill?”
A crowd gathered to watch the crazy foreigners losing their minds watching this bird.
I felt so relieved. We got the shoebill. It wasn’t exactly the view I had dreamed about, but we saw the bird in its habitat, you could clearly tell what it was and I could see the gorgeous gray eyes. I felt my shoulders relax and I was ready to enjoy everything else—it was all gravy at this point.
And the rest of the trip was amazing and I’ll write more. But Herbert had one more shoebill trick up his sleeve. On our final day of birding. He took our vehicles across Lake Victoria back to Mabamba Wetlands with one of his female guides to get a better view. He said that our group was the first time in 30 trips that he had not seen a shoebill there. He wanted to do it again. We were in, we were all in.
We were warned about rain and we had our rain gear. The boatmen also had umbrellas for us as well. We had to go into some of the thicker parts of the vegetation to get to the birds and we had to do some waiting while our female scout searched. But we got our shoebill!
I made a video of our shoebill search and you get better idea of what it’s like getting around the Mabamba Wetlands.
UPDATE 1 : I received a notification from David Sibley himself! “"I can say right now to assure you that we are committed to updating and improving the app going forward.” So because of that I’m saying that you should purchase this app now, especially if you are reading it while it is at the discounted price of $9.99. Sibley assures the issues will be fixed soon!
UPDATE 2: I received an update to my iPhone app on November 22 and many of the problems pointed out in this review have been addressed. It appears emailing errors you find in the app can be addressed relatively quickly.
Poor David Sibley. He is an amazing artist who has gifted us with a revolutionary field guide. His publishers keep getting in the way of his outstanding art.
So…should you buy the Second Edition Sibley app? I honestly don’t know. UPDATED: YES!
Currently the app is in the iTunes store for $9.99. Word on the street is the price will go up in a month to either $19.99 to $29.99. Presumably they will fix these problems so getting it at a discount now is a good deal…though if they don’t…well…it’s a waste of money.
For years birders have been waiting for either an update or new Sibley app when his second edition came out in 2014. When that second edition Sibley came out there was a printing problem. Many of the birds were darker than they should be and the font was not great for older readers. This led to a recall and a second printing. Birders love the Sibley Guide and so have been anxiously awaiting the second edition in app form only to be told that it would be coming “soon.”
Finally, we all got updates in our Sibley apps on Friday directing us to an “update” which was a link to buy the 2nd edition. So I paid the $9.99 and downloaded it. I have a ritual for field guides where I look at my favorite bird pages first (don’t we all). One of those is the scarlet tanager. I especially wanted to check that because it was such a problem with that second edition first printing. I gasped and thought, “Oh no, they wouldn’t have been that foolish.”
Then I went to the red-shouldered hawk page and realized…the app company digitized the wrong printing…the one that had plates that were too dark. The one where the publisher issued a recall. How did this happen? Did no one pay attention to file names? Also as someone who is kind of anal about planning…how did Sibley, the editors, agents or even early reviewers not double check this?????
My Digital Earthy, I totally would have checked this first had you sent me a copy of the app to review.
But this isn’t the only problem. The scrolling is slow and clunky and has crashed while I used it. And then there are other issues…
Some of the maps are off. Especially birds that don’t have actual maps in the book. On the one hand that’s a nitpick…but if you’re using Sibley it’s because it’s a bird you can’t id and you need to nitpick.
The new Sibley app has PROBLEMS. Some of these seem nit picky but here’s the deal…if you are using Sibley it’s because you want to be nit picky, you’re trying to figure out hard to id birds.
One thing I do like is the ability to search for species by banding code. I like that you can scroll by name or by image. I like that you can choose what month and how common birds are when you select what state you are in. And many of the smart search terms are put in a way that are easier for a new birder to understand. There’s a lot to like about this app.
I’d like to assume that the app company is going to make updates. I’d like to think that advising you to purchase the app right now at the cheaper price and waiting until they make the necessary updates is better than waiting until everything is fixed and paying the higher price is better. But I just don’t know.
FYI most nature app companies send me their apps to review or at the very least send me press releases about what’s happening. I only knew about the forthcoming release of a new Sibley app because some birders were talking about seeing it on social media. When I purchased the app and I noticed the art problem I emailed My Digital Earth in the app. I didn’t get a response. However at least two birders (interestingly, both male) who pointed out the same thing I did posted screenshots or notes saying that the app developer confirmed they had indeed received the wrong printing to digitize and the app would be fixed in the near future—so presumably some edits are coming.
I don’t blame Sibley at all for this app. Clearly this is a publishing problem.
Can’t wait to talk about this app in my Tech Birding and Tech Nature classes.
On the one hand I’m sad this book is no longer a workable app. On the other hand it is a very fine book and the most recent edition has some great improvements.
I’ve joked before that new editions of field guides can be a bit of a scam since sometimes it’s mostly a taxonomy change or just a few rare bird illustration updates. But I grabbed an old second edition National Geographic from my office to do some comparisons. You can use this to see if you need to get an updated copy. I had a first edition and second edition when I was a kid. I will always have a fondness for these guides. One thing I really like is that the guide gives several options to try an locate a species quickly.
Species-wise there are quite a few additions. I think the second edition has over 800 species. The seventh has 1023 and it’s organized by the American Ornithological Society’s taxonomy structure. About 3500 illustrations have been updated (new additions and diagnostic field marks are added. Maps have also been updated by Paul Lehman and even include some migratory routes. The back of the guide includes a list of extinct birds (Carolina parakeet) or wild card ABA Code 5 rarities that have shown up in the last five years (Amazon kingfisher). I find it interesting that Carolina Parakeet and Bachman’s warbler are in this list but the ivory-billed woodpecker still shares a page with the pileated woodpecker. Hope springs eternal.
It’s an excellent field guide to have in your collection. If you have fourth edition or older I would definitely consider upgrading to this copy. And with holidays around the corner, it’s a good gift idea.
One of the best mornings I ever spent was because of a cheaper flight. Sometimes when flying home from Europe, at least $1000 can be saved by extended the trip an extra day (usually to fly on a Monday rather than a Sunday).
Since we had an extra day we did some birding and for most of us the goal was wallcreeper. This is a mytical European bird that I’ve been interested since the first time I cracked a field guide for this area. Think of an elegant silvery nuthatch with bright pink wings that creeps rocky walls gleaning insects. I’ve dipped on them in Austria and Israel but my friend Dale had a lead on a one overwintering on a castle in Bregenz near Lake Constance. What’s not to love about that sentence? So away we went to locate the bird with our thermoses full of coffee.
Our group had the nervous anticipation of flinching at any leaf movement as we combed the castle wall for the small bird. Eventually the bird was seen high up and worked its way down. We had lots of time with the bird and we were even able to send it to Facebook Live to grip our friends who were at work or on a flight home.
It’s a strange thing getting such a unique bird on a castle, especially one I’d missed several times. It’s all part of the magic of birding in Europe. The best part was that this was just the start of our birding adventure as Chris Wood from eBird came up with a mad plan to be the top eBirders in Lichtenstein.
As part of Year of the Bird National Geographic released a book called The Splendor of Birds. It’s supposed to be a reflection of how we notice birds and how that has changed in the last 130 or so odd years. The book incorporates historic photos, illustrations and some amazing images from recent years. I had high hopes for this book, because coffee table books of birds sparked my imagination as a kid of what it would be possible to see one day.
But my overall feeling for it is…meh.
It is interesting to see how far we have come in grabbing images of birds both in the form of illustration and photography. I realize that early on bird painting and photography was dominated by men because they had the time and equipment and quite frankly, were the ones allowed to do so, but that’s changed so much in the last two decades.
I had hoped the part of the book that focuses on the last 18 years would incorporate lots of female photographers but…sadly, no. Yes there are a few women that have photos in the book book, but the illustrators are mostly absent. The only female illustrator shown is the 1880s couple Jonathan and Elizabeth Gould co-credited on a bower bird illustration. Counting the 198 contributors in the back revealed that 18 were women (roughly 9%). Which is incredibly disappointing considering that the birding population in the US is over 50% female. But hey, they had some so I shouldn’t complain…
That’s not to say there aren’t stunning images in this book. There are some beauts and as a strictly “bird porn” type of book it’s nice.
There are also many images of captive birds that are washed out in mid-flight. I’ve never been a fan of the method getting a bird frozen in mid flap. The motion is interesting, but the colors are completely faded out from the flash.
So the book is ok. If you’re a kid interested in birds, it might spark your interest to learn more about different species, but overall it’s underwhelming. I wouldn’t go out of my way to give this book as a gift to someone but if I found it at a use book store, I give it a consideration.
There is quite a bit to debate when it comes to "ethical birding." You can practically make a drinking game out of arguments of taped calls and bird disturbances on your state's birding group every winter.
I've thought of this numerous times when in Central America and a guide used a taped call on a bird that they presumably take people to on a daily basis--or multiple guides visit on a daily basis.
I think there are times and places where taped calls can be effectively used. I would rather play a taped call for ten people who have never seen a yellow rail to get it to come out, rather than have ten people trample through rail habitat to see if one flushes.
There's definitely technique to using recorded bird calls. I wouldn't necessarily play a territory song for a species during fall migration. What works with one species may not work with another. A study in the late 70s/early 80s on how taped calls didn't interfere with nesting trogons can't be applied to Kirtland's warblers.
David Sibley was a wonderful and nuanced post on how to properly used taped calls for birds. Basically, go in with a plan and don't over use it.
When we were in Cuba, we had one overall guide and in every National Park we visited, we were required by the government to also use one of the park guides to take us in the park. They are paid, but they rely heavily on tips. And they have been taught that if people get the bird or the exact photo they want, they get better tips.
The birding we did around the Bay of Pigs was spectacular and we explored the woods and savannas around Soplillar. One of our targets was the Cuban nightjar and our guides had one staked out, tucked away in thick vegetation. I realized when I got back to the states that I had heard one at night...they just sound more like a frog than a nightjar. We were a respectful distance away, no effort was made to clear vegetation out of the way for photos. Sure my pictures isn't going to end up in National Geographic, but I like how the branches obscure the bird, it takes me back to the moment when I saw it.
The other target was a bare-legged owl. The guides knew where one was in a nesting/roosting cavity. They set us up around the deal palm tree pockmarked with woodpecker holes. They told use to aim our binoculars and cameras at a certain hole and then they would get it out. I'm familiar with a survey technique at roost/nesting cavities where you lightly tap on the trunk of a tree like a woodpecker and an irritated owl will poke its head out. I assumed that was what would happen here. I was not prepared for what happened and quickly switched to video when I realized what they were doing.
Yep, the local guide just started violently shaking the palm tree. The tree was in such decay that I was worried it would get pushed over. Sure I could have gone on a tirade, but white lady yelling at people in their own country about what they do is a role I never wish to have. I tried to offer some diplomatic advice as one professional guide to another.
"Hey," I said casually, "there's a technique that you can try where you just tap the tree lightly like a woodpecker. That might be a bit easier on the owl than shaking the tree."
The guide agreed and said that that is what he used to do and the bird stopped responding. Then they started to shake the tree a little and after awhile that stopped working. Now they have to shake very hard to get it to appear. Sigh.
I was amazed that the birds hadn't abandoned the cavity all together. Perhaps they had gotten used to some disturbance? Maybe cavities are so rare that they put up with it? The owl shared the tree with a nesting West Indian woodpecker as well. Based on the woodpecker behavior it clearly had a nest in the tree. There would be lots of noise and pecking that comes with a woodpecker nest that perhaps the owl is resigned to a life of daily disturbance?
There were times when other taped calls were used and I had to get the local guide to stop. Later in our trip we were out looking for a Key West quail-dove. When we arrived we heard a mangrove cuckoo--as species you can only get around Everglades or Biscayne National Park in the Unite States. Our guide of the day immediately started playing the call over and over and over.
I calmly suggested that maybe he should turn it off for a minute--give the actual bird a chance to assess the situation. But he continued. And this went on for several minutes. Not only was I irritated that my request was ignored, but I could tell the rest of my group was uncomfortable with the relentless playing or just downright bored when there were other things to be seen. I finally went to our main guide and said, "Tell him to stop, that bird is not going to come out. They don't call over and over like that."
Sometimes when people play a call nonstop or play it too loudly, the target bird will clam up and hide. The bird may be confused or threatened by the sound, "What is with that crazy sound, I don't sound like that, is this dangerous?" Some birds will hear a call once and clam up. Then it's up to you to wait--sometimes as much as 15 minutes and the bird will come out when it sees the coast is clear.
I suggested that we give up on the mangrove cuckoo, look at some other birds and maybe the cuckoo would come out while we focused on other things. Soon enough we found the original target of the day, the Key West quail-dove. And about ten minutes into enjoying that bird guess who popped out...
It was one of the best looks at mangrove cuckoo I've ever had. It casually fed in the tree, it preened--something birds only do when they don't feel threatened and are comfortable in their surroundings. Everyone had ample time for photos and video. The bird just needed time to get past all the calls.
I don't blame the guides. Clearly what has happened is that people have come before us and pressured the guides with their tips to get them exactly what they wanted to see or photograph. The guides depend on those tips and will do what they need to do take care of their families.
I referenced earlier that a guide offered to flush some flamingos so we could get flight shots and my group unanimously declined. We were content to watch and photograph them feeding. The birds were fairly close and comfortable with us. And they got so relaxed I got one of my favorite shots.
I don't mean to pick on Cuba. Birding tourism is relatively new for them. There hasn't been the decades of birding like there has been in the US or the UK. Some of the top guides in Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras have had the chance to come to the US and get to know more about birding ethics. But I do think it's up to us to help point this out politely. If there is something you're uncomfortable with on a tour, have a conversation about it. I don't mean yelling at a guide in the middle of a field trip, no one will listen to that, especially if their being taken to task in front of a group. But when you're sitting down with them at the end of the day and having a drink, engage in a conversation about bird behavior and share how birding happens where you live. If birders/photographers before us are setting a bad precedent, it doesn't hurt to share how birding is different in other areas.
"I don't really notice birds."
This was a recent confession from a very good friend who I have known for decades. I was baffled, how can you NOT notice birds...especially after knowing me? Haven't I told them a ton of interesting factoids? OK, I may have traumatized them when they told me they thought ducks were cute and I told them about duck anatomy. But I really thought they could handle that information.
How can someone not notice birds?
When I first started this whole bird writing stuff n 2004 I was used to people saying, "You watch birds? Huh, my grandmother does that." It was always said in way that was almost an apology, "oh that thing you love is boring."
And I've taken it as my mission to say, "Screw that, birds are amazing and we're all over here having an amazing time."
Over the years as all sorts of passions have come about, it feels like we share our passions. Though I may not get why my adult friends are obsessed with going Disney World every chance they get, I appreciate that they like it. When I'm watching that friend's third trip to Disney in a year on Facebook I realize, "Oh, I bet they watch my multiple trips to go birding in Texas with the same bewilderment." How many times do I need to see a green jay? Apparently as many times as my friends need their picture taken with Donald Duck.
On a recent evening I was still chewing on the "not noticing birds" conversation as I was participating in an Insect Safari as part of my job. Though the focus was insects, there were several birds around and I was watching them. One was a very obliging indigo bunting. I set my scope on it in case anyone wanted to take a peak as they paused in their insect hunt. One man put his eye up to my scope and was shocked. He insisted his wife and kids take a look too. As they did he said to me, "I gotta tell you, I never got birding, it just seems so boring. But that bird, that I can see why you do this."
Not long after my phone buzzed with a text alert. It was my friend who was driving around and found a turkey in the road. They sent a photo.
"You noticed a bird."
"Yes," the replied.
I'll take my victories where I can.