What’s it all About Jonathan Franzen?

This last month(April) saw a pissing match between several birding organizations–or was it a “snark-battle over bird conservation strategy” as one person put it? This pissing match/snark-battle revolved around one person whose name is Jonathan Franzen. Mr. Franzen is a novelist and essayist whose works have, many times, featured birds. He was pictured on the August 2010, Times magazine cover as a, Great American Novelist.

His latest book, Freedom, was critically acclaimed, but received very mixed reviews on Amazon.com. That's a Cerulean Warbler on the cover.

The first time I heard of Jonathan Franzen was an interview in the American Birding Association's(ABA) February 2015, issue of Birding. After reading the interview I came away with several impressions of Mr. Franzen. He was a serious birder although a late starter. He had a tremendous concern for the birds he watched having written about the slaughter of birds in the Mediterranean region. But he has a huge carbon footprint. Having written and read so much about climate change I have a tendency to judge people on how much carbon they put into the air. He has two homes. One in Santa Cruz, CA and one in New York, NY. He travels worldwide for business and writing assignments. In the interview he's pictured in Brazil, Spain, the Eastern Sierras, and he mentions doing a lot of traveling in Europe in his twenties. It sounds like he's still doing a lot of traveling. He is identified in the interview as being on the board of the American Bird Conservancy(ABC) a bird conservation organization that I donate to. The interview ends with this statement,

I recommend this to anyone who cares about birds. Become active in the ABA and the local Audubons. Contribute to ABC.

In my research on climate change I've bookmarked many organizations that deal with the subject. On April 1st, I heard Jonathan Franzen's name again. It was in a ThinkProgess article called, The Corrections: Jonathan Franzen’s Deeply Irresponsible Climate Change Article.

The New Yorker has published one of the most bird-brained and hypocritical climate articles ever, “Carbon Capture: Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?” Quick answer: No!

There is zero chance the New Yorker would publish such easily-debunked nonsense if it's author were anyone other than Jonathan Franzen, a fiction writer of some acclaim, with several popular books rated 3 stars on Amazon. But as I came to learn — and as the New Yorker should have known — his entire essay is a stunning exercise in hypocrisy.

I was curious so I found the article in the New Yorker and read it. It can be found here. Please read it. I will have something to say about it shortly and It might surprise you that I agreed with much of what he wrote.

To slow global warming, we could blight every landscape with biofuel crops and wind turbines. But what about wildlife today? CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY OLIVER MUNDAY

Grist had another article called, Jonathan Franzen is Confused About Climate Change, but then, Lots of People Are.

Jonathan Franzen, noted author of depressing literary fiction, has taken to the pages of The New Yorker to lament that no one cares about saving birds any more because all anyone cares about is climate change, and anyway, maybe we should just let humanity burn from climate change and save the birds because birds aren’t big jerks like people.

The essay is … not good. Just qua essay, really not good. I can’t imagine The New Yorker publishing it under any other byline. It is odd to read in the pages of that august magazine, for instance, criticism of a peer-reviewed study the author admits he has not seen but has judged “from the Web site’s graphics.”…

Despite the many valid criticisms, I find myself nursing some small ember of sympathy for Franzen. His essay reminds me of lots of conversations I’ve had over the years. I’ll be talking with someone — a smart, well-read person — and when they find out I write about climate change, they’ll kind of hesitate, and I’ll prod, and they’ll tell me their Climate Thing.

Most people haven’t taken the time to get familiar with all the ins and outs of climate change. It’s an incredibly complex and politically charged subject with all sorts of contradictory and fragmentary information bouncing around various info-channels. It takes some dedication and a thick skin to get a well-rounded understanding of it and most people have no particular incentive to do so.

Then the ABA got into the fray on their blog defending Jonathan Franzen, their new buddy.

And while Audubon could be forgiven for interpreting Franzen’s essay as an attack, I had a hard time reading it as such. Franzen’s criticisms are couched in a respect of an organization he calls “energetic” and “activist” in the near past. Sure, he finds the turn towards climate change to be ill-considered (and granted the plush birds line was a bit of a low blow), but not because it’s not an important issue, but because Audubon has historically been at its best when the weight of hundreds of thousands of motivated members are brought to bear on issues that have more immediacy than what Franzen calls the “imponderable” issue of curbing carbon emissions. The gist being that birders want to help birds in ways beyond changing light bulbs and signing online petitions.

I learned from this blog post that Audubon had responded to Jonathan Franzen’s article.

We were hardly a hundred words into Jonathan Franzen’s essay in the New Yorker about climate change and conservation when we suddenly found Audubon taking all kinds of flak about our concern about the impacts of climate change on birds, of all things. As though doing research on the topic and taking steps to do something about it might somehow be bad for birds.

By the time we got to the end, our confusion had turned to incredulity. Just what exactly was this man trying to say?

Franzen’s flawed logic leads him to believe that people can’t work to reduce the sources of climate pollution while protecting the birds and places they love at the same time. That’s not our experience here at Audubon—far from it. Our members can walk and chew gum at the same time.

As anyone knows from reading this blog I'm not a big fan of National Audubon. You can read my posts, Carbon Intensive Bird Event Sponsored by Audubon and Dear Brigid to get a general understanding of why. By the way, Brigid McCormack did finally respond to my email and I hope to post on that response sometime soon. The release of Audubon's, Birds and Climate Change report, may be a turning point for me and I agree with David Yarnold, President of National Audubon Society that people can work on both issues. I know I can. Here in drought ravaged California I am constantly getting emails from Audubon California about Tricolored Blackbirds, Double-crested Cormorants, hummingbirds, California Gnatcatchers, Snowy Plovers, water issues and birds, lead issues and birds, etc.

I said that I agreed with much of what Jonathan Franzen stated in his article although as a novelist he plays it fast and loose with his facts. Maybe that something he thinks a novelist can do. Here are some quotes from the article that I agree with.

…it’s important to acknowledge that drastic planetary overheating is a done deal. Even in the nations most threatened by flooding or drought, even in the countries most virtuously committed to alternative energy sources, no head of state has ever made a commitment to leaving any carbon in the ground.

The science is clear on this. We are heading (already there) towards a warming planet. Our carbon budget will soon be exhausted.

Jamieson’s larger contention is that climate change is different in category from any other problem the world has ever faced. For one thing, it deeply confuses the human brain, which evolved to focus on the present, not the far future, and on readily perceivable movements, not slow and probabilistic developments. (When Jamieson notes that “against the background of a warming world, a winter that would not have been seen as anomalous in the past is viewed as unusually cold, thus as evidence that a warming is not occurring,” you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry for our brains.)

Based on my experience people don't understand climate change. They don't get it!! They don't take the time to even try to understand it. They just go along with their life hoping someone else does something about it.

Climate change shares many attributes of the economic system that’s accelerating it. Like capitalism, it is transnational, unpredictably disruptive, self-compounding, and inescapable. It defies individual resistance, creates big winners and big losers, and tends toward global monoculture—the extinction of difference at the species level, a monoculture of agenda at the institutional level. It also meshes nicely with the tech industry, by fostering the idea that only tech, whether through the efficiencies of Uber or some masterstroke of geoengineering, can solve the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions. As a narrative, climate change is almost as simple as “Markets are efficient.” The story can be told in fewer than a hundred and forty characters: We’re taking carbon that used to be sequestered and putting it in the atmosphere, and unless we stop we’re fucked.

Yes we will be fucked and so will all of Jonathan's “nature” preserves and the birds that live in them. In his article he alluded to this.

The forest in Santa Rosa seemed desperately dry to me, even for a dry forest in the dry season. Hallwachs pointed to the cloud cover on the volcanoes and said that during the past fifteen years it has steadily moved upslope, a harbinger of climate change. “I used to win cases of beer betting on the date the rains would come,” Janzen said. “It was always May 15th, and now you don’t know when they’re going to come.” He added that insect populations in Guanacaste had collapsed in the four decades he’d been studying them, and that he’d thought of describing the collapse in a paper, but what would be the point? It would only depress people. The loss of insect species is already harming the birds that eat them and the plants that need pollination, and the losses will surely continue as the planet warms.

Jonathan Franzen seems to think that there is nothing we can do about all this.

The problem here is that it makes no difference to the climate whether any individual, myself included, drives to work or rides a bike. The scale of greenhouse-gas emissions is so vast, the mechanisms by which these emissions affect the climate so nonlinear, and the effects so widely dispersed in time and space that no specific instance of harm could ever be traced back to my 0.0000001-per-cent contribution to emissions. I may abstractly fault myself for emitting way more than the global per-capita average. But if I calculate the average annual quota required to limit global warming to two degrees this century I find that simply maintaining a typical American single-family home exceeds it in two weeks. Absent any indication of direct harm, what makes intuitive moral sense is to live the life I was given, be a good citizen, be kind to the people near me, and conserve as well as I reasonably can.

Certainly a statement of convenience for a globe trotting individual. Have you noticed that climate warming is never anybody's fault? It just seems to happen. In my comments on the ABA's blog I wrote,

Mr. Franzen is correct when he's saids that. The problem with that thinking is that in our “relatively” wealthy modern society there are so many Jonathan Franzens and collectively they put lots of carbon into the atmosphere.

In The New Yorker article, Jonathan Franzen fails to identity himself as being on the board of directors of the ABC. That's part of the controversy. He also trashes the National Audubon and their Birds and Climate Change Report. The link will take you to Audubon's website where they explain the report and even links to the actual report itself.

A hundred years ago, the National Audubon Society was an activist organization, campaigning against wanton bird slaughter and the harvesting of herons for their feathers, but its spirit has since become gentler. In recent decades, it’s been better known for its holiday cards and its plush-toy cardinals and bluebirds, which sing when you squeeze them…

After I commented on the ABA Blog about the Jonathan Franzen controversy I was contacted via Facebook by a Michael Retter. He is, “the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine”.

Hi, there. I think you may be the Richard Hubacek who commented on the ABA Blog? If so, I invite you to read the discussion on the ABA's Facebook discussion group about the Audubon climate report. Many knowledgeable people believe it is deeply flawed. That doesn't mean they don't think climate change it real and dangerous to birds. Just that there are some major issues with the climate report that should have been caught by peer-review before publication.

Readers of this blog can also read this discussion. You might have to have a Facebook account to use this link. There you will find a point counterpoint discussion about the Audubon report. I felt it to be evenly divided on the subject and It even has birding legend Kenn Kaufman, an ABA Board of Directors member and famous low carbon big year birder telling the doubters to read the small print. At this point I would like to plug his butterfly book as the best general book on the subject but maybe I should just stay on subject. What you will not find is any mention of how drastic planetary overheating is a done deal or how fucked we will be if we don't stop putting carbon into the atmosphere. It's like they only read part of the Franzen article.

I have been reading reports on birds and climate change for many years. None of these reports state that climate change is good for birds. The ABC (Jonathan Franzen is a board member) issued a report in 2002 called, The Birdwatcher's Guide to Global Warming.

Human activity – particularly the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas – is sending tremendous additional quantities of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.The buildup of these gases is causing the planet to heat up and is altering the basic climate systems to which nature is adapted.There is a growing body of scientific evidence that some birds (as well as plants and other wildlife) are already responding to the changing climate.

As we explain in this report, recent studies indicate that this global warming could affect birds in many ways, shifting their distributions and altering their migration behavior and habitat, and even diminishing their survival ability. In some places, we may no longer see our favorite birds – as many as 33 states could see a significant reduction in American Goldfinches in the summer! As birdwatchers, we enjoy seeing the same birds we have always cherished in our backyards or on a favorite hike.What’s more, we understand that if a bird’s range shifts even a few miles, it can have a trickle-down effect for wildlife sharing its ecosystem.

If every household in the United States replaced its most commonly-used incandescent light bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, electricity use for lighting could be cut in half, lowering our total annual CO2 emissions by approximately 125 billion pounds (Geller 2001)

The report had a rather large section about changing light bulbs. It's sort of funny that Jonathan's article puts down the value of changing light bulbs. In any case the ABC report seems to be saying the same thing that the Audubon report is saying. Bird ranges will be moved because of climate change and it will not be a benefit for many of the birds.

The State of the Birds 2010 Report on Climate Change found National Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy collaborating along with other groups and government agencies on a report that says basically the same thing.

In 2007, National Audubon and ABC seemed to get along well enough to release, The United States WatchList of Birds of Conservation Concern.

In 2009, Audubon California released a report called, “Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Will Reduce Future California Bird Loss“. In it they state,

Up to 110 of 310 California native bird species will experience significant reductions in their geographic range in the next several decades due to climate change, according to new research from Audubon California. These reductions will be part of massive range shifts to all of the state's bird species caused wholly or in part by the effects of climate change.

Did Jonathan Franzen, living in California, ever write an essay attacking the science or conservation ethics of Audubon California? Maybe he just wasn't as grumpy then as he is now. For those that don't get that last sentence read The New Yorker article. Being in the grip of a four year drought, Jonathan is in a bad mood. Here in California we are reading and writing a lot about our situation. An example that caught my attention recently was a 4/12/15, front page article in the San Francisco Chronicle called, Rich water wasters slow to turn off tap. It would appear that many rich people don't care how much they pay for water. One quote from a Palos Verdes Estates women (I used to live and work on the Palos Verdes Peninsula) was especially telling.

The longtime Palos Verdes Estates resident argued that any concessions she might make would probably have little effect on the statewide drought. (She) admitted, however, to recent pangs of guilt…

How do you think people whose wells have gone dry, who have lost their jobs in Central California's fields, who are actually conserving water, or are concerned about California wildlife would react to that statement? But isn't that what the Jonathan Franzen's of our world believe?

At the very start of this post I stated that there was a pissing match between various birding organizations. Maybe I was wrong about that. Although Jonathan Franzen is a board member of the ABC I can find no mention of the controversy on their website or their social media. Is Jonathan representing the ABC as a few people seem to think or is it just his personal opinion? I would like to know. Audubon certainly was entitled to respond to his article. Where did I find most of the sniping coming from? It was from the American Birding Association. To be fair I don't have a wide ranging view of these things. But Jonathan Franzen's name keeps popping up on their social media. Here. Here. Here. They seem to be keeping his name highlighted. Is it because, based on his interview in Birding, he's their new bro? Seems like it but I really don't know.

I wrote about the ABA back in 2013 when I had just started to blog. It was called, Is the ABA Schizophrenic? As a birding organization the ABA has no little conservation conscious. The ABA was founded on certain principles.

The next few issues were devoted to lively discussions of what the association and its publication should focus on, as well as an abundance of lists. An early consensus was reached that ABA would devote itself to promoting the hobby and sport of birding and would leave scientific contributions and conservation efforts to other organizations. To ensure that its direction would not be subverted, turning the organization into an armchair-bird-watchers' society or a conservation lobby, an elective membership policy was instituted, in imitation of that of the AOU.

It wasn't until a vote of it's members in July of 2011 that the ABA was even allowed to advocate on birding issues. I believe that I joined the ABA in 2007. That was well before my “green” birding conversion. I had heard rumors about the ABA's troubles but had no idea of how bad they were until I recently came upon a blog called, Birding with Kenn & Kimberly. In July of 2010, there was a post titled, Which Way For ABA?

The basic gist of the post was that Kenn Kaufman had been asked to help find a new president for the ABA.

The fact is that the American Birding Association is facing a tough situation right now. Membership numbers have been declining for the last few years, there have been a number of bad management decisions, and the organization is in financial difficulties. Whoever comes in as the new president is going to have to overcome some major challenges.

There are fifty comments to the post. It makes for an interesting read. Many of the names that commented were known to me as a reader of Birding. ABA's Birding was about the only thing universally praised in the comments. There were calls for a mass resignation of the board of directors. Allegations of lack of communication and even staff abuse from the board were made. You can even see the tensions between the hobby and sport people and the conservation people.

Keep conservation limited to Birders' Exchange and “North American Birds”. Leave the shouting and oil-soaked beach media-moments to the professional advocacy groups.

It would be absolutely fatal for ABA to move in the direction of spending more time, money and staff on conservation-related activities.


Members of the broad recreational birding community should be visibly, forcefully and effectively involved with conserving habitats and the bird species that “we” profess to “love.” ABA has never placed sufficient emphasis on conservation!!!! There is absolutely no reason why working singly or in broad partnerships to achieve what is in the long-term best interests of birds and other biodiversity shouldn't be FUN.

In response to other blogs that say that ABA should drop conservation, I would disagree. An organization that represents people who derive their enjoyment from watching birds would be remiss not to acknowledge bird-related conservation issues and not to support bird-conservation measures.

i must admit that my favorite comments came from a person named Brush Freeman.

First let me just allow why I no longer am with Birding. Frankly, in my case, I just “matured” beyond the whole list,listing and chase thing list thing which is what Birding more and more and more about..I don't condemn that, it just bores me to tears now, even though I was a sucker for all of that stuff once……I dropped ABA in part because it became more and more a less GREEN org., touting the 'who gives a flip” accomplishments of individuals that burn barrels of oil chasing a single species for some sort of stupid list. Frankly no one cares about my list or yours, so why does ABA even bother with this garbage anymore..?. Let ABA buy a few preserves, some habitat in critical areas, and really make a difference. Dump the sports end of the dollar-sucking publications and do something useful for future generations..

Brush, it's called ego. That's why they publish that “garbage”. Birders have to see where they stand in the birding world. I wish Jeff Gordon all the luck in the world as ABA's President.

So have I offended everybody with this little post on my blog? The answer is no I haven't. Nothing bad about the ABC in this article. I don't have anything bad to say about them except for having a controversial board member but I will be keeping an eye on them. Not too long ago they sent me an email promoting The Biggest Week in American Birding. I noticed something unusual about the email. The event is promoting a carbon offset to protect the Cerulean Warbler. From the ABC's website.

(Washington, D.C., March 19, 2015) One of the world’s premier annual birding festivals, known as The Biggest Week in American Birding (“Biggest Week”), will feature for the second year in a row a “carbon offset” component to advance bird conservation. This year, the festival suggests a $10-per-person donation to enhance habitat for the imperiled Cerulean Warbler and other migratory birds.

The funds raised through the carbon offset will boost reforestation efforts by American Bird Conservancy (ABC) in Latin America, which has supported the planting of more than 3.5 million trees and shrubs to date, improving wintering habitat for Cerulean Warblers and many other bird species.

I've noticed that this is happening more and more. Somewhere in the back reaches of some birder's brains is the fact that birders put lots of carbon into the atmosphere having “fun” chasing birds. Let me highlight a member of ABA's staff. Noah Strycker was formerly the Associate Editor of Birding. He is still a Department Editor in charge of “interviews”. In fact he did the Jonathan Franzen interview. Noah is on a Birding Without Borders year.

This year I will try to become the first person to see 5,000 species of birds in one calendar year, a sort of cosmopolitan, modern version of Wild America and Kingbird Highway. Rather than hiring international tour guides, I’ll spend my time with passionate locals—individuals who care about their home patches, and who are making a difference for birds in their own areas. Along the way, I will explore how birding, and the conservation of birds, fits into our new, crowded, globalized millennium.

Noah seems to get it!!

It sounds like a lot of flying, but a year is a long time to trace one methodical circuit of the globe. Contrasted with the quick overseas vacations taken by many birders, the environmental impact of this project seems less extreme—or at least more efficient. Traveling with a purpose carries other benefits, too; in my view, if everyone could visit just one other country, the world would become more humane. Still, I know I will be responsible for burning a lot of fuel in 2015, so I have joined a carbon offset program. It’s not a perfect system, but in theory my net carbon footprint during this trip will be zero.

And where did I happen to read about Noah's adventure? How about the National Audubon Society's Blog. It always amazes me how interconnected birding organizations are.

Here's an idea. What would happen if the ABA incorporated a carbon offset into their fabled Code of Birding Ethics? Make it 1(e) right there under Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.

That's something I think I could get behind.

This is undoubtedly the longest post I have ever written. I guess that proves that just about anyone can write a long rambling essay. How do I want to end this thing? How did Jonathan Franzen end his essay? Does anyone remember?

The animals may not be able to thank us for allowing them to live, and they certainly wouldn’t do the same thing for us if our positions were reversed. But it’s we, not they, who need life to have meaning.

It's a pretty good ending. I'm going to leave you with a quote from a climate scientist and surprisingly a trailer from Emptying the Skies a documentary based on Jonathan Franzen's articles on the bird slaughter in the Mediterranean. He co-produced the film. It seems like it is a powerful film on an important issue. We all have a part to play in saving birds.

A Grist article titled, Should climate scientists give up flying? reports on a moral dilemma that climate scientists have. Even though, “climate scientists curtailing their air travel would make a microscopic dent in reducing emissions”, they are in a small subset of the population that really knows what's going on with climate change. I personally feel that birders should also be in that small subset of population if they really care about what happens to the birds we love. Richard Alley, a climate scientist at Penn State ends the article with a quote that totally encompasses my feelings on the subject.

Individual actions cannot solve this problem and build a sustainable future. But we cannot solve this problem and build a sustainable future without individual actions.








Brown/Red-backed Shrike

There is an update (10/04/15) on this shrike in another post on this blog. It's titled, Butterflies, Birds and That Darn Shike. I must warn you that you will have to scroll down to the end of the post to get the update.

I'm republishing this post with more updated information and a new way of thinking about a bird's carbon footprint.

Congratulations go out to friend and blog follower Alison Cebula for finding Mendocino County's first and California's fifth record of a Brown Shrike or was it the first record in North America of a Red-backed Shrike or some hybrid? The birding community is in a frenzy trying to decide. I forget what Alison's exact title with California State Park is but I know she runs the Snowy Plover program for them here in Mendocino. While doing a March 5th, Snowy Plover survey on Manchester State Park at Alder Creek she noticed and digiscoped a recognizable image of the shrike. I've never been able to do that with any bird.

Ok! That's not a recognizable image. Here it is cropped and sharpened.

The Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) is a bird in the shrike family that is found mainly in Asia. It is closely related to the red-backed shrike (L. collurio) and isabelline shrike (L. isabellinus).

The Red-backed Shrike breeds in most of Europe and western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. The bird is listed as a “least concern” (LC) species on a global scale, but some parts of its range have seen a steep decline in numbers, so locally its status can be less secure.

Alison had concerns about broadcasting the location of this shrike. A Brown/Red-backed Shrike is one of those rare birds that birders will chase to add it to their list. This is especially true for the Red-backed Shrike which has never been seen before. Her concerns were noted in the original posting on MendoBirds by Robert Keiffer on March 12, 2015.

There are sensitive species in the area. All of the sidehill slopes and riparian zones with thick vegetative cover are Point Arena Mountain Beaver (Aplodontia rufu) habitat …. Do NOT go traipsing off trails to look for the bird. If you get down to the beach …this can be Snowy Plover habitat …. be aware and do not disturb plovers if you find them.

The Point Arena Mountain Beaver is listed federally as “endangered” and the Snowy Plover is listed as “threatened“.

The Brown/Red-backed Shrike made the big time this morning(3/15/15) on the ABA Blog. The first thing that had to be corrected was the spelling of Alison's last name. They had it as Sebula. That's been fixed but it's funny how Alison's concerns about the sensitive species were left off the post. I tried to correct that in the comments but who knows if they will be read. My final sentence In those comments was,

As we all know when the CHASE begins all that matters is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.

So people have already been chasing this bird. Most have succeeded and some have failed. The furthest, as of this posting, has come from Oakland, CA. over 300 miles round trip.(see update below) A couple of birders have come from Lake County, several from inland Mendocino. One local birder north of Fort Bragg made three trips before she found it. One trip is roughly 95 miles round trip for her. I have to confess that I hitched a ride with her on her first trip. Other will try. Those that failed will try again. Remember that the EPA estimates that over .8lbs of carbon (and other pollutants) is released for every mile driven. What will this bird's carbon footprint be?

The fact that this could be a first ever Red-backed Shrike has the upper experts in the birding world debating the identification of this bird. They are waiting and hoping that the bird stays around long enough for it to molt into adult plumage. They are calling for more pictures of the bird as it molts. I was offered rides down to Alder Creek to get some of these pictures but the person who offered the ride stated in another email to another birder:

Richard is like Alison, though, by not wanting to disturb the Mountain Beavers….

So, I hope that this will work out OK. Maybe some more assertive photographers should try to go there again.


I thanked the person for the compliment and declined the offer of a free ride with the suggestion that there are many “assertive” photographers out there that will be more than willing to step on an endangered animal to get “the” picture of the shrike. There have been numerous reported incidents of birders ignoring the instructions concerning endangered species. Most birders have been considerate but those that don't give birders a bad name.

Just an update as of 3/16/15.(see next update below)

Update as of 4/07/15. Through various sources I have learned that birders have come from Rhode Island, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona. I'm sure that's a short list. There have been many birders from the surrounding counties north, south and east of Mendocino. Most birders don't advertise where they are from except maybe to those around them when viewing the shrike. It has been Ebirded at least 90 times as of this date. Many viewers don't Ebird.

So this shrike has developed a large carbon footprint. I have a question. Would a label on a gas pump like the one below change any birder's (or any driver for that matter) behavior?

Labels on pumps is something being considered in the San Francisco Bay area. How about this next label?

I don't think people realize that their choices and life styles are affecting the environment. They can't connect the two. It's called cognitive dissonance. Canada is thinking of the following label on their gas pumps. What do you think? Will it help? Will birders when their wells run dry or are facing extreme weather finally put it all together?




Dorian Anderson Does It!

If this post looks familiar to you it's because I wrote it just seven days ago. Why would I repost this article? It's because I want to show you the different reactions to Dorian Anderson's tremendous achievement and Neil Heyward's conventional if record breaking Big Year in 2013. There has been NO reaction at the American Birding Association(ABA) to Dorian's efforts nine days after his year ended. Bear in mind that he was out there raising money for them. I am going to re-tag this post to include the ABA. In 2013 I was able to connect my blog to their's using this method. Don't know if it still works but I will find out. More on this below my post congratulating Dorian Anderson.

Congratulations go out to Dorian Anderson for successfully and safely completing his Biking for Birds Big Year. This was Dorian's pledge when he started his birding adventure.

I, Dorian Anderson, will travel only by bike, foot, and kayak as I move about the continent in search of birds. My movements will be unaided by petroleum, natural gas, and electricity. I will not have a support vehicle; everything I need will be carried on my person and my bicycle. This Big Year permutation will certainly add an unprecedented level of adventure to the endeavor, and it should set a new standard for environmentally sustainable travel.

His early estimate of bird species he expected to find was between 550 and 600. His final total is 617 with the possibility of an additional Red-legged Honeycreeper if the Texas Rare Bird Committee approves it.

He visited 28 states, biked 17,830 miles, walked 493 miles and kayaked 8 miles. He had 34 flat tires, 1 broken spoke, and 1 broken dérailleur cable. He raised over $45,000 for bird conservation and birding programs.

He has set a record for the most birds seen without using a carbon producing vehicle. We will see if anyone in the birding community will attempt to break it. Most birders like to bird using the comforts of their cars. Maybe the next attempt at a birding big year should be using public transportation.

You can see Dorian's final 2014 post at his Biking For Birds Blog. You can still hit the donation button.


Here is an email that I sent to Nate Swick, ABA's blog manager on January 3rd.

Nate–Dorian Anderson has completed his Biking for Birds big year. In fact it's been 3 days now going on 4. He was actually out there raising money for the ABA. Why the silence on his efforts? You should be featuring him prominently on your blog just because of his efforts. I would bet that by this time last year Neil Hayward received more blog time and as far as I know he wasn't raising any money for ABA. Maybe Neil can get on a bike and challenge Dorian's record.

Richard Hubacek

Little River, CA

OK it was a little snarky! Here is Nate's reply on the fourth.

I haven't silenced his efforts. I just have a ton of other stuff backed up that I need to get published. We'll have something on Dorian very soon.


Of course I hadn't claimed that he had “intentionally” silenced Dorian's efforts, it's just that no one at the ABA seems to be excited about them. Nate was excited with Neil Heyward's efforts. He was on the boat when Neil Heyward's broke Sandy Komito's record on December 28, 2013. You can read about Nate's excitement on the ABA's blog. Note the title, Neil Hayward Does It! Sort of like my title for this post. Other members of the ABA staff were out with Neil during his year especially in Alaska. To be fair I read where some members of ABA's staff met up with Dorian early in his year and one, Diana Doyle, a green birder and writer for Birding, actually rode with him. There may have been others. Nate also wrote a blog titled, Gunning For ABA Big Year on the 6th of December, 2013. There was the Hayward vs Komito: A Look at the Playing Field by Greg Neise on December 27th. There was the Congratulations Neil! by Lynn Barber on December 31st. The ABA let Neil Hayward announce the ABA's Bird of the Year during an interview. I think I'm safe when I say that there was lot's of excitement at the end of 2013 because of Neil Hayward. None so far for Dorian Anderson. Maybe it's because Dorian was setting a record and not breaking one (although I think he broke a few) but I'm afraid that it's the culture of birding in general and at the ABA specifically. I hope they make a big deal when he hands them a big fat check.

Update: Before someone makes a big deal out of it, there was one “biking” Big Year featured on January 2, 2014. It was titled, An Interview with Ron Beck: Big Green Year Record-breaker.

As for the culture of birding and the ABA mentioned above, I wrote in 2013, a post called, Is the ABA Schizophrenic? It wasn't one of my best written posts but I sure liked the title.


Birding News

I haven’t done any birding news for awhile. This started out as a “green” birding blog so I should tell you what’s been happening in the Mendocino birding world? 

The last birding post was about Laguna Marsh, part of the Big River Spring bird surveys. They are finished. The final leg was the East Haul Road. This section is the least diverse, bird wise, of all the three surveys. As you go further east you get down to just a few different birds. Wilson’s Warblers, Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes are the “big” three.

Pictured above are Nicolet Houtz, Trails & Big River Stewardship Coordinator, and Emily Merfeld, Paul Siegel Salmon Restoration Intern, looking east on the Haul Road. Both are with the Mendocino Land Trust, the sponsor of the surveys. I actually did five survey for them. Two West Haul Road, two Laguna Marsh and one East Haul Road surveys. Ever present were the mosquitos this year, the worst I’ve ever seen.

On June 8th, I posted this announcement on our local MendoBirds website:

8 June, 2014–Sunday–This morning and early afternoon there has been a female MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD at the Little River Airport. First found it on a power pole at the entrance road to the airport. Later viewed it near the windsock and hovering out in the center of the airport and when I left it was along the hangers on the taxiway going west.

Since it was a female I have spent some time with my bird books to make sure of the ID.

If you plan on chasing it, remember that it is a working FAA controlled airport.

Richard Hubacek
Little River

This was a new Mendocino County bird for me and they are quite rare in the county. Because it was the first female MOBL I’ve seen, it confused me for awhile. Until I saw the blue on it’s rump I wasn’t sure.

After talking to the airport manager the following week I posted this announcement on the Mendocino bird website:

Sat. 6/14/14–This morning I was doing my usual birding at the Little River Airport and happened to start a conversation with the airport’s manager. I started the conversation with the announcement of a rare Mountain Bluebird last Sunday. He said he knew all about it and proceeded to tell me several stories about birders chasing it. One birder after watching plane activity proceeded to walk out on the active runway. Another group of birders decided to form a car caravan and drove out on the taxiway, stopped on it and got out and set up their scopes. He related a plane on the taxiway having to stop because of people in it’s way. 

Because of this conversation I will no longer be posting rare birds at the airport on this website. I will probably delay reporting them on Ebird as well.

I realized, in thinking about this issue, that I failed to follow the ABA’s Code of Birding Ethics. 1(c) states, “Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners.” 

 I would suggest that all birders read this “Code of Birding Ethics” frequently. It can be found on the American Birding Association’s Website.   http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html

After birding the airport for many years I can’t afford to let inconsiderate birders close off my local patch.

Richard Hubacek

Little River

Birders can be such idiots at times but I received several good replies to my announcement.

I am still doing my SOS Shorebird Surveys at Virgin Creek Beach. Still taking the bus and my bike to do them. The official start of the new season started on July 1st. It been quiet, shorebird wise, for most of the year but I had the earliest (for me) returning Western Sandpipers on June 19th.


On June 27th, a Friday, I received a call from Karen Havlena. She said that Dorothy “Toby” Tobkin had found a Black Skimmer on Virgin Creek Beach. This was Mendocino County’s first Black Skimmer. It created a dilemma for me. There was no chance of catching the bus. There was no one, that I knew of, going into Fort Bragg to hitch a ride with. What to do? I got into my truck and chased it. I was successful.
This bird was banded and I’m sure we will find out it’s history. Some people have said that this could be a possible result of an impending El Niño with it’s warming waters. This leads me to my guilt about the extra carbon I put into the air. I personally put over 27 pounds of carbon and other climate warming gases into the air. See this EPA site to see how I calculated this. People from Lake County chased this bird. It’s was a carbon producing bird. 

Based on my last post, “Care to Join the Debate–Carbon Offsets” I have decided to give a small donation to a birding organization. Which one should I choose? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology might be a good choice but they never answered my letter and I’m no longer a member. They still sponsor extreme birding fundraisers. How about National Audubon? I was shocked to see that their latest issue of Audubon Magazine (July-August 2014) featured Neil Hayward and his 2013 Big Year. No mention of their climate change policies but they want us to green our pets.  And there’s still no mention of “greening” their Christmas Bird Counts. The American Birding Association (ABA) is gradually bringing the subject of climate change to their members but it is still the “listing” center of the birding world. So I’ve decided on the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). As far as I can find out they don’t sponsor extreme birding and walk the walk on their climate policies. They also do good things for birds. I will suggest that they establish a new bird chasing “guilt” fundraiser. It might catch on.

It Was in the Mail Box Today

I opened up the mail box today and there it was. The latest issue of “Birding”. 

I checked and there it was, my letter to the editor just as Ted Floyd (editor of Birding) said it would be. You can see the evolution of this letter in previous posts on my blog here and here. It was a long, “letter to the editor” in waiting. A four month wait. 

Reading American Birding Association’s President, Jeffrery Gordon’s, “Birding Together” column in the current issue it would appear that the ABA is starting to recognize that “green” birding is something they are now willing to talk about. He heavily promotes the efforts of Dorian Anderson biking across the United States in a Big Green “Biking for Birds” Year for 2014. You can read Dorian’s blog here. I am happy to have a small part in this conversation.

I’m currently waiting for my first look of the year at the ABA’s “Bird of the Year”, the Rufous Hummingbird. They should be passing through shortly.


Contrasts–A Tale of Two Birders

This post will be a tale of two birders and their quest for a “record” Big Year. I’ve already told you about Mark Kudrav’s record big year in a previous post. Mark is still going strong as of today even though he’s already smashed the Green Big Year record of 318. 

Mark’s bio taken from the San Mateo Outdoor Education website, “Mark is a graduate of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a B.A. in Environmental Resource Management/Forestry. He has completed courses in the Art of Mentoring and Kamana I and ll naturalist training. He has worked as a forestry technician assisting graduate research in the field and in greenhouses. He developed and gave extended presentations about forest fire ecology to students throughout Virginia. He has also worked as a literacy tutor who helped tutor children in reading at three elementary schools. For several years, he led a program called Nature Awareness and Tracking Stuff where he used games, stories, songs, and nature hikes to teach environmental education to children of all ages. He worked for four summers as a camp counselor in Durango, Colorado, helping lead 8 to 12 year-olds on backpacking trips and establishing an organic garden. Additionally, he served for a season as a Park Ranger on Isle Royale National Park. He enjoys playing the guitar, writing songs, gardening, birding and tracking. He is returning to San Mateo Outdoor Education for his eleventh year. Mark’s nature name at outdoor education is “Redstart.” Mark’s blog is here. Mark’s way of getting around during his big year is his bike, Modus. Mark has used no fossil fuel during his big year.

The other big year birder has also set a record…well maybe. Some of his birds still have to be approved. His name is Neil Hayward. Neil is the Founder of Cambridge Blue Consulting-Greater Boston Area-Biotechnology. His summery on LinkedIn is, “Senior business executive with experience leading and developing teams globally. I have a degree from Oxford (BA – biochemistry) and a PhD from Cambridge (in developmental neurobiology) together with global research experience. I have over a decade of experience in the eCommerce and biotech industry – including business development, setting up global offices, matrix and regional management, IPO and M&A. I have experience at the board level, managing a company and developing a management team. 

I am passionate about growth, both corporate and human – I’m interested in providing a progressive and stimulating environment which breeds and encourages personal success and development.

Neil is doing an ABA area big year. His way of getting around is…anything that flies, drives or floats using fossil fuels. Neil’s blog is here. Both Mark’s and Neil’s blog have lot’s of birding information in them and are fun to read. Both seem like nice guys. In reading both blogs there are references to other birders doing the same types of big years.

What are the current numbers? Mark has currently seen as of this post 326 birds and biked 5096 miles. Neil has seen 746 birds plus 3 provisionals (i.e. Birds that have to approved by a committee), flown 193,758 miles, driven 51,758 miles and boated 147 hours (15 days. I guess it hard to gage miles in a boat). Mark’s carbon footprint for his birding is zero. Neil’s carbon footprint is…Jesus I don’t know. Would someone please calculate it for me? I think that we can all agree that it’s a whoooole lot more than Mark’s

How about the difficulty of the two big years. If you read Mark’s blog you will find him biking Highway 395 up and down steep mountain roads or dodging traffic on Highway 1. Neil’s difficulties seem to be having to sleep in airports and finding a good cup of coffee or a good meal. He probably had a hard time dodging traffic on the way to the airport. The last comment was out of line but I’ll keep it in the blog because you know what my feelings on this issue are. As this ABA blog states, all you need is, “…a laptop computer, cell phone and the necessary contacts, time, resources and desire…” I think the definition for resources is mostly money.

The American Birding Association (ABA) is treating Neil as a celebrity. There have been 3 or 4 (or more) posts on their blog. If you Google Neil you will find him on bird forums, blogs and newspaper stories. If you Google Mark you might find a local newspaper story and his place of work. I found one post for Mark on the ABA site here. It’s more like a footnote and not from any of the big names at ABA. Neil had the ABA Blog manager, Nate Swick, on the boat with him when he found his last bird, a Great Skua. He was on a John Puschock bird tour in Adak, Alaska. John reports ABA rare bird alerts and manages #ABArare for the American Birding Association. He had Greg Neise taking pictures of him while birding St. Paul Island, Alaska. Greg Neise is a web developer for the ABA. I would bet that Mark didn’t have any ABA people following him around and no celebration pictures taken when he smashed the “green” record.

How do you evaluate these big years? Do you base it on just brut numbers? It appears that many birders do. I evaluate based on the amount of carbon going into the air and the proven effects that carbon has on the environment and birds. Mark wins in my opinion. 

In his book called, “Kingbird Highway” Kenn Kaufman claimed the record for “birds per buck”. In 1973 Kenn did a big year. He found 666 birds basically hitch hiking around the country. He did the year on less than $1000. I don’t think Neil came very close to that. Kenn Kaufman is a big name in birding. He’s written several field guides and is a board member of the ABA. My questions are…Why aren’t birders trying to break that record? Will any ABA members try to break Mark’s record?