Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Twisting the ABA rules

Only a few fortunate (are they really?) birders can afford to spend extensive stretch of time on the field, seeking to break either bid day or big year records, travelling all over the world, continent or even state to add the latest rarity.
The rest of us, the vast majority, simply restrict their "competing territory" to a smaller area, such as counties, township, or even backyard. We are enjoying the discovering of a Connecticut warbler in our backyard just as much as a birder with unlimited fund and time (and carbon credits, in the future years) would enjoy to fly 3000 miles away to find a fan-tailed warbler in New Mexico
All of these birders, despite their difference, share common rules. In order to "count", an observation should follow the 5 ABA rules :

(1) The bird must have been within the prescribed area and time-period when encountered.

(2) The bird must have been a species currently accepted by the ABA Checklist Committee for lists within its
area, or by the A.O.U. Checklist for lists outside the ABA area and within the A.O.U. area, or by Clements for all other areas.

(3) The bird must have been alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered.

(4) Diagnostic field-marks for the bird, sufficient to identify to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented by the recorder at the time of the encounter.

(5) The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.
This brings me to this crucial question, whose answer depend the well being of thousands of cubicle birders

What's about the webcams?

Nowhere in these rules I found anything that prevents me to add on my life list a species seen on a webcam . Rule 1 specify the location of the bird, not the observer, rule 2, 3 and 4 are irrelevant, and rule 5 is actually a lot in favor on this particular form of twitching, because you actually don't use any fossil-based fuel to see the bird.

One might argue that "encountered" specified in rule 1) actually imply being physically present to observe the bird.

Are you kidding?

Why could you count a bird you see through the EVF (electronic view finder) of your digital camera, and not count a bird you see through a webcam? In both cases, you only see the visual representation of a numerical signal. Only difference is the length of the cable between your eye and the bird.

Plus, nobody said that "encounter" meant "in real life", rather that "virtually". Nowadays, lots of people meet virtually "friends" who live thousand of miles away, thanks to social networking websites such as facebook. So I think a webcam based encounter is indeed a real encounter.

That opens a new world of possibilities, isn't it?

Are you missing the stellar's jay to your life list?

look at a feeding station in California, and here we are!

You are short in cash, but think you can identify every single one of the 136 species of hummingbirds that can be found in equator? For this check the buenaventura webcam in Ecuador! The quality of the streamed video is really good

While looking at that webcam, I was able to find a bird I could recognize and identify (well at least I think) : the green jay! That's one more lifer on my list!

You feel a little bit overwhelmed by the number of hummingbirds? I am too (I need to find a book about South American birds before to really work on that one). So I choose to take a short trip to Antartica , because I need a few penguins on my list

More realistically, I obviously don't think using webcams is fair game. At the very best I might think about starting a list with birds only seen on webcams. But it's a great way to learn about birds, specially if you are in your office! (I remember that Jochen was playing another time killing game, involving some sort of a geo-google earth birding bingo)