3/14/2008

Survey Help: The Hoo in Taboo

In conjunction with all the discussion around the hoo in taboo, I’ll like to post a quick poll to get a snap shot of what people think. I’m trying to come up with an accurate poll and I’d like your thoughts on the following:

If you find an owl roost:
A. Don’t reveal it to others
B. You can reveal it to fellow birders
C. You can reveal it to anyone
D. It depends on the species
E. Depends on location of owl

There's room for improvement here so let me have it!

The HOoo in Taboo

Dealing with taboo subjects can be tricky because people obviously have pretty strong opinions about them and people don’t generally talk about them either. Well I wanted to chat about one of the MAJOR taboos in the birding world – revealing an owl roost. Revealing an owl roost can be a MAJOR deal that can have pretty serious social implications for someone in birding circles. Chris W in WI says that “If I posted LE Owl locations to Wisbirdn, I'd get shot by the list owner and a few dozen other people… people in WI don't even post LE Owl sightings to Ebird!! much less tell anyone else about them”.

When bloggers post about owls they don’t post any specifics about owls and the post generally starts to sound something like Scott W’s “We moved on to another area (yes, I'm being intentionally vague...it's understood with birders that you don't reveal an owl's location, since they are easily disturbed), and Paul met up with another local birder who pointed out several Saw Whet Owls...all in all there were four in this spot, and we saw two”. This is NOT a bash at Scott, I’m just using his post to illustrate the caution that fellow birders take to conceal the location of the owls. (BTW, I’ve done the same thing on many occasions)
I definitely don’t think that this topic should be taken lightly and quite honestly I am very conflicted about which side (if any) I’m on. Revealing a roost may be life threatening for an owl and there have been cases where people have claimed that human interference directly resulted in an owls death:

During this month I’d like to get your thoughts on:
  • when (if ever) it’s ok to reveal a roost?
  • are some species more/less sensitive and if so what are they?
  • is there a difference between telling a fellow birder and a member of the ‘public’ about a roost?
  • do you tell fellow birders about a roost?
  • has a fellow birder told you about a roost?
  • are there any special cases where the public should know about a roost?
  • are there any benefits to telling the public about owl roosts?
  • are owls understudied because people don’t give away their locations

As I said when I started the post, I realize this is a taboo topic but I hope that you’ll take the time and courage to share your thoughts with me during this month.

3/13/2008

Noddy badge: The winners!

I'll do anything to get people to interact with me on my blog, so I keep thinking of new hair brained schemes to draw in the crowds. Ok, so going by my Nature blog network ranking maybe not crowds.... Anyway, the Limited ID Bird Quiz feature is doing very well and I wanted to reward the winners. Initially I couldn't think of any ideas and then it struck me -eureka. How about a modified noddy badge, this time for a mature birding audience? Surely everyone in the birding community will scramble to proudly display their winning noddy badge.

I'd like to congratulate both Patrick and Mike for winning the first and second rounds of the Limited Bird ID quiz. I hope you guys will display the Noddy badge proudly on your site. Hopefully I will get my butt in gear and get another round up soon. Until then, I'm sure all of you are envious about Patrick and Mike's amazing achievement!

AMAZING photos of Africa

It's tough to find good photos from Africa and more specifically from South Africa. I wish I had a digital camera when I lived in SA... Anyway, I came across a blog that has some awesome shots from Southern Africa with many having been taken in SA. I keep thinking that if I ever go back, I'll have enough blogging material for several years ;-)

Check out ken Hall's amazing pics at http://kenhalls.blogspot.com/

IBWO Poll results

This month's poll reached record setting participation levels with 34 people chiming in on the status of the IBWO. I wanted to leave the poll choices as open ended as possible and I did get some constructive feedback from one survey taker stating that two of the options were not exclusive i.e. ‘evidence leaves me undecided’ and ‘is extinct in my opinion’ overlap in their interpretation of the actual question. In the survey taker's opinion you could feel that the evidence is inconclusive and therefore the IBWO is extinct. Point well taken Mr/Mrs Anonymous. I was trying to do an open ended question with a multiple choice survey which is tough, if not impossible to do. Thanks again to all of you who not only voted, but also shared your thoughts on the status of the IBWO. Without more fuzz and ceremony, here are the results.
Still exists in my opinion - 14 (41%)
Evidence leaves me undecided 12 (35%)
Is extinct in my opinion 8 (24%)
Is uninteresting to me 0 (0%)
Total votes: 34
The poll wasn't a runaway for either the believers or non believers. The folks who feel that the IBWO still exists managed to garner 14 votes, while the undecided’s got 12 votes. I actually thought that the undecided’s would be in the majority in the end but all you romantics came out of the wood work and put the half full people over the top! You half empty skeptics cast 8 votes stating that the IBWO was in fact extinct in your opinion.

I must admit that was a major learning curve for me. When I started the poll I really didn’t know much about the IBWO and this gave me an opportunity to do more research and to look into the evidence. I tried to show both sides of the argument during the month and I ended up going from feeling strongly that it still existed to feeling a lot more skeptical about the evidence. Having said that I still feel that there is a shot that the IBWO still lives.

3/11/2008

Owl box: When no news is bad news

I fire up the owl cam several times a day with pretty much the same result - a vacant owl box lined with wood shavings. I guess the owl that was in the box in November has moved on and at the moment this nesting season looks like a bust. I have been tracking other owl boxes online and most of them have some activity going on at the moment. I’m obviously disappointed, but actually I'm more surprised at my lack of success. I've obviously had owls in the garden and I know my owl box is in a good spot..... I guess it's just the luck of draw in the end.

If anything changes I'll keep you posted!

3/10/2008

Surreal birding experience

Posting the video of the Crowned eagle reminded me of my weirdest and one of the most thrilling birding experiences ever. I was in High School at Treverton and I was doing a biology project on eagles. I was fortunate in that one of the best naturalists in the area was also a friend of the school. I ended spending two glorious weeks with him studying eagles and other birds. The one morning he told me we were heading out to a Crowned Eagle nest site to watch them repair the nest for the new season. I figured we had a good 2-3 hour drive ahead of us as we were in Escort which is bushveld and Crowned Eagles prefer heavily forested areas. He smiled slyly as we headed to the car.

The drive turned out to be 20 minutes long as the nest was located right outside of town. You can imagine my surprise when we pulled up to a house on about 2 acres with a beautifully manicured lawn. Right in the middle of the lawn stood a massive eucalyptus (Blue Gum in SA slang) tree with an enormous stick nest in the center. Surely this couldn’t be a Crowned Eagle nesting in some dude’s front yard, I thought to myself. I was introduced to the home owner and we all took seats on his porch. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes a Crowned Eagle flew in with a massive branch. This continued for a long time while the three of us watched the show. By now I was sitting spell bound with my jaw literally on the ground.

To my surprise the day got even stranger because as we were leaving I saw something thin and long flying across the yard. I noticed a cat in the area where the flying object originated and I decided to go see what had landed in the bushes. As I approached the area I noticed a small snake lying there. I took a few more steps and the little man reared up his hood in an aggressive show of strength. Yip, we had found ourselves the first flying Mozambique Spitting Cobra. Both of us decided that this day was moving from the surreal to the ridiculous, so we packed up our donkeys and headed on home.

Its fun thinking back to that weird day and I often wonder whether that nest is still there or whether someone handed that Crowned Eagle a bird book and explained that it was actually nesting in the wrong spot. I also wish that I had owned a camera back then, so I could post some of those incredible pictures that I still have in my head. I was fortunate to see Crowned Eagles on several occasions; mostly either circling above the forest canopy or zooming through thick patches of forest; but nothing came close to my day in Escort! Have you got any surreal birding experiences? I’d love to hear from ya.

3/09/2008

Why don't I see owls?

People often remark to me that I am so lucky to always be seeing owls. I mention to them to them that most owl species are EXTREMELY tough to find because they are masters at camouflage. Combine that fact with the fact that most of them are strictly nocturnal and the challenge becomes even greater. Most of the owls that I’ve found have either been by accident or via a tip from a fellow birder. I thought it would be a good idea to take a couple of pictures to illustrate how hard it is to find Long Eared and Short Eared Owls even when you know where to look.

I actually walked past one of the LEO’s on my last owl prowl even though it was relatively out in the open.


I also pointed out two other owls to folks who had been looking for the owls for about 20 minutes. Can you see them?



As you can tell from the Short Eared Owl pictures below, their habitat is perfect for camouflaging them.


The point of this post is that owl are out there, we just need to take the time and effort to look for them. As you can see from my pictures, even when you know where to look owls are mostly hard to find. I often wonder how many owls I’ve walked past in my life without even thinking about it. By the way, the last picture (second picture in the Short Eared Owl set) doesn’t have an owl in it, sorry ;-) The rest of the photos definitely have an owl in them, did you manage to track of all them down?
My IBWO poll on my blog will be closing soon and my next poll (The hoo in taboo) will be owl-related so stay tuned!
Incredible photos shared by the Flickr community group - Owls of North America. Click on the play button to begin the slideshow - ENJOY!