Farquhar: The internet has made bird watching more complicated

Bird watchers love to share their finds, but posting them on social media can have unintended consequences

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I am what you would call a novice bird watcher. I like to watch them at bird feeders, take pictures of them, stop on the side of the road sometimes to take one picture in the field, on the ropes etc.

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According to Dailybird.com, birding is the next step when you take a trip that specializes in birdwatching: you study them, buy guides, maybe invest in binoculars, a good camera.

Birds “share their discoveries when they find good finds, revealing details about where and when they find them. Most importantly, real birds obey the law at all times. They respect other people’s property, and they never enter a private building or building without the owner’s permission.”

Now the dithering is another matter.

Dailybirder.com says twitching is an old English expression and means to go out in pursuit of an unusual species for the purpose of viewing it. It’s all about spotting a rare bird and showing the world your amazing find.

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Before the internet, you could send a report to the national bird association. Now you can just go to ebird.com to post your findings.

Some birders and twitchers have life lists and will stop at nothing to get the rare bird off that list. I say “some” because I suspect that most people think too much about others and their property.

So why am I explaining the difference between birders, birdwatchers and birders? However, one day my friend Phyllis contacted me about helping her spot a bird that had been in her yard for a few days. I went out and took pictures and posted them on Facebook.

We both knew this bird didn’t belong in this area but we didn’t know if it would be contested in the world of bird watchers. I have to admit that this evening, I wished I hadn’t sent it as it felt like I had done something wrong. People have been commenting with suggestions about keeping the location private or sending me private messages asking if they can have a location.

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Phyllis and I reported the bird to several sites for a record. My friend and I were very surprised by the interest and demand.

We were very pleased to have pictures and a record of this bird, and we completely understood why others wanted to see it. But two things: one, how do you do that without having tons of people in the private space; and two, how to do it in a way that protects the bird and does not scare it.

That’s when we heard about the rare bird ambassador program in Ontario through the Ontario Field Ornithologists organization. The goal of this program is to promote good relationships between landowners, birders, photographers and birds.

We met one person who was a bully and basically didn’t care if the landowner wanted him or not. This is not a way to create warm feelings for other bird watchers.

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Thank goodness, though, for the information people have shared about OFO and other sites for information on how best to handle sightings. Phyllis has decided to continue with OFO and its ambassador program, which it hopes will be established soon.

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He added: “I feel very privileged that this bird exists and I am determined to protect its food source and habitat. The ambassador program is highly recommended and I look forward to working with OFO.”

Whenever I get a chance to take pictures of birds that I have never seen before or animals, things like foxes that I was photographed with, I feel honored to have this opportunity. Sometimes, it feels like I hit the jackpot and can’t wait to share it with family and friends. This experience has taught me, however, not to jump too quickly to share photos until I am ready to handle the expectations and interest of others.

Ruth Farquhar is a freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island.

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