Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dream Come True

Lately I’ve been fortunate to have what I think of as a dream project- I’ve been going through all the pictures of birds taken at Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory in an effort to put at least one picture of every bird up on the website. This may not sound like a dream project to most people- I mean, it’s just endlessly going through pictures of birds and resizing them, right? And with around 190 species banded at the station over the years, it’s quite a lot of pictures.
No, the reason it’s a dream job is because I’ve become a birder. Three years ago I met my partner, incidentally a former CRFRC employee and bander, and he of course had to get me hooked. At first I was reluctant- I mean, birding, right? People make fun of that hobby. But I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and for me birding meant a deeper understanding of what I was seeing as I hiked around- it literally opened my eyes to things I never even knew were there. Now my own personal life list is hovering around 175, and it’s time to start really firming up my knowledge of birds. By sorting through these pictures and posting them, I get to not only test my knowledge (is that a Canada warbler or a Cape May warbler?), I also get to see the other birds I need to keep a look out for when I’m out and about. My identification skills have improved by leaps and bounds just in the last few weeks.
We’re not just putting these pictures online for the fun of it (though it is fun). Eventually these pictures will become an educational tool- in addition to pictures of each species, there will be pictures of males and females of the same species, close ups showing key features banders use to age each bird, and information about the individuals that were banded at the station. Did you know there’s a Northern Shrike (not at all common on the Eastern Shore of Maryland!) who has returned to Chino Farm for the past six years?

All of this information will be presented along with lesson plans for teachers and guides for using the albums as a resource- for expert banders and researchers from around the world, to bird enthusiasts, to the general public, who, like me, didn’t know a thing about the wide variety of birds that visit us every year!
The albums are still under development, but I’ll give you a sneak peek, just to whet your appetite. Stay tuned for further developments, and be sure to check out up to the minute photos of birds being banded at the Chester River Field Research Center facebook page.
Warblers Banded at Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory
Tara Holste is an amateur birder and the web manager for the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College.

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