Saturday, December 8, 2012

Birding Etiquette

What happens when the world is looking for the rarest bird in the US?  Well, it was such an amazing thing.  Birders from all around the country come in flocks.  You swear a celebrity was in town.  The parking lot filled up like I've never seen before.  Parking starts out on the street and backs up.
I contact Kathie, who just came back from a big trip the night before, and she is on her way.  I had already seen the Groove Bill Ani the day before, but I want Kathie to get it on her list.  And she wants it on her list.  But she lives on the opposite end of town.  It's Sunday morning and people are going to church.  Traffic slows her down.
And Murphy's Law happens.  Almost too perfectly.  The bird lands right in front of me.  I hear the call first like I did the day before.  A man near me repeats, "Ani" the same time I do. And we're off.  Surprisingly, most people did not study the bird call before coming.  At least twenty people begin to crowd around with their cameras, but being that I had the call located to the right spot......I had the bird right in front of me.
But I crouched so that others could see.  I am a very tall guy and didn't want to be rude.  Someone's phone went off and the birders were all annoyed.  Really annoyed.  The bird flew into the salt bush.  And moved like our Road Runner does here in the desert.  I was able to then make adjustments to my camera the best I could.  You see....the Ani is from the Cuckoo family as is the Road Runner.  Not a graceful bird at all.
But the bird was quick!  It seemed to prefer the Willow Trees along the ponds. It perched mid to high range on those trees.  Birders, surprisingly kept their distance and allowed the bird some space.  But birders are aware of the idiots who don't care and just want the shot and ruin it for all. Today no one would try that move.  And thankfully no one played that call on their cell phones!  Extremely rude!
We observed the bird for 20 minutes.  It was quite the crowd.  I texted Kathie and said, "Hurry!  But be safe!"  As she drove into the parking lot, a Cooper's Hawk flew to grab the Ani.  The Ani dropped into the reeds and quickly disappeared.....for good.  The crowd, as quickly as they came, disappeared.  But others came after them and remained hopeful.  I stayed for Kathie to help her find the bird.  We were able to hear it several times that day but it never made an appearance again.
It would be the last time I saw the Groove Billed Ani.  Kathie would go again and not spot the bird.  I was bummed out about the timing.  She was kind and said it was okay. 
You win some and you lose some in the business of chasing a rare bird.  We saw the Common Loon together and were happy about that find.  But this one we couldn't both claim.  Kathie has to see the bird to make it count.  I have to get it on camera to make it count.   Once it's on camera, I will count the bird if I hear it by call alone. So what kind of birder are you?  And would you follow birder etiquette to get that shot?  


  1. Well apart from the bird being an Ani that story could just as well have been here in the UK Chris. We often get 2000+ twitchers for a "biggy". Your description of the antics of the birders was spot on and made me laugh. It happens over here too when rare birds seem to be a target for raptors and there have been a few incidents of the target bird being snatched before the twitchere's eyes. Pleased you got out birding and got a lifer too.

  2. You are a good teacher and a good blogger, I just would have to go back in time and study your blog before heading to spot birds and listen to their call.

  3. NO, I would not follow the bird. It would be nice to have a photo for memories of the sighting. I really have a dislike for people that chase birds or animals to get "that" shot. I have seen people in Yellowstone getting really close to buffalo, bears and even chasing a moose to get their photo. In the process they ruin it for all the people who were there to enjoy seeing the animals or birds. I am sorry Kathie did not get to see the Ani. Have a great weekend, happy birding!

  4. To z pewnością rzadko spotykany ptak, jeśli wzbudził taką sensację. Pozdrawiam.
    It's certainly a rare bird, if aroused such a sensation. Yours.

  5. Oh well done indeed Chris you got some fantastic shots of the GB Ani, they look super when you zoom in on them. Such a shame Kathie didn't get there in time, but one day...! I loved the little white crowned sparrow from yesterday, so sweet. I would definitely follow etiquette, I hate it when people are rude and pushy, but I think you beat anyone I know for enthusiasm.

  6. Well done Chris! It is always exciting to see a 'lifer', a shame Kathie missed out this time though. I also enjoyed the lovely variety of birds on your previous post. You were so lucky to see the GB Ani on two occasions. I find twitchers rather intimidating so tend to avoid them.

  7. I don't know my USA birds, Chris, but I do have the Sibley guides, and it seems like the Ani was a real rarity - and what a super bird! I've really enjoyed your accounts of this, and the accompanying images.

    Over here in UK there tends to be a small amount of tension between bird watchers and bird photographers - and this is probably mainly due to arrogance on the part of a minority of individuals in each camp. And fanatics are always dangerous, as the rules don't apply to them! Sadly, I've witnessed some exceedingly selfish behaviour. With photographers, often it's trying to get too close. With birdwatchers, it tends to be trespassing on private land. Those, like you and I, who fall into both camps and understand the etiquette, will (hopefully) not upset any reasonable person.

    When the bird is a rarity, I will stay with the watching group. If, for any reason, I want to change position I will not do so without the agreement of all present, and then it will (hopefully) not be to the discomfort of the bird.

    However, I will sometimes stalk a bird in order to get the photo if it is relatively common (and not in any way an endangered species), and only if no one else is trying to view the bird. This, to my mind is acceptable. Then there is the issue as to how long one should leave it before returning to try again. This is a matter for common sense, but I tend to work on a period of at least a week.

    In summary, I get the greatest satisfaction of all from seeing the bird still in same place that I found it, when I'm leaving.

  8. Nicely done Chris! The photos are great as usual!

  9. I tend to avoid rarities reported in my area because of the crowds and how some people forget or just plain ignore etiquette as I do not like to see birds stressed. If I come across a rarity I photograph it and keep my distance.

  10. It's sounding more like "The Big Year" all the time.

  11. Well done on the GB Ani - so exciting to see a "lifer". A shame Kathie missed it but good birder that she is I am sure she will see one. For me to count a "lifer" I have to see it and see it well to be sure of the id! For my year list I will count birds that I have only heard as well as those seen.

    Like ShySongbird I tend to find many twitchers intimidating! Although to be fair some are lovely people - remember going to see the Long-eared Owls roosting at Brandon Marsh when the children were little and before we had a telescope and several birders let the children see the birds through their scopes. I have only attended a few "twitches" most local. As far as I am concerned the welfare of the bird comes first and I could never play a call or get too close just for a photo.

  12. Oh what a shame that Kathie missed it, but you got some great shots of it. Maybe one day she will catch sight of it. :)

  13. I can understand why birders flock to the site. That is a pretty interesting looking bird. You got some really nice shots of it too. Like the B&W effect but the first picture in the leaves shows a bit of the birds personality. Way cool!

  14. i never even heard of an ANI. what a story!! don't people know that phone rings need to be turned OFF at certain times?!! NO, i guess not. THINK, people!
    at least you were lucky, and got some great pictures...too bad kathie didn't get there in time to see for herself, but i'm sure the opportunity will happen again! this bird almost looks like a cross between some kind of a hawk and a parrot! FANTASTIC shots as always chris, i LOVE the first one best!

  15. Chris, I just wanted to let you know what a very nice person you are! Thank you for your kind comments. I am sure your family is very proud of you!

    1. Beth, I think the same of you. I just want you to know that I do think of you often. You're not alone. Your blogger friends are always there for you:)

  16. How sad for Kathie! What great shots you got of the Ani though, Chris! I'm so impressed!


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