Thursday, May 16, 2013

Birding by Old Photos: To Life List or Not?

I was looking through my electronic photo albums the other day. I have most of my digital photos organized by year and then sub-categorized by month or event, which is handy as long as I can remember that we went to Oregon in 2004 or Maine in 2012. Otherwise, I click through windows and folders like a madman until I find the photo I want.

Recently I was browsing through these folders and I saw one for our trip to Prince Edward Island in the summer of 2008. That was a great trip- we ate seaweed pie, took the Harbour Hippo tour where you cruise through town and then onto the harbor, ate lots of lobster, and went for an evening of deep sea fishing. The fishing trip was quite memorable as we caught a bunch of mackerel, briefly saw a whale, and generally enjoyed being out on the relatively calm Atlantic Ocean. I also remember the ruckus that ensued when the deckhand started cleaning some of the fish that we had just caught. Seemingly out of nowhere a huge flock of birds appeared and grabbed the fish gut tidbits being thrown overboard. It was so loud and chaotic that I even took a photo of the birds.

And these are just a few of the hungry birds looking for a free handout. It got me thinking about my life list. I saw the birds, I heard the birds and I even photographed the birds. If I were to carefully look at the photos, perhaps I would be able to ID some of the birds? But a follow-up question quickly ensued: Should I include these birds on my life list? I didn't ID the birds in the field, although I could easily have done. I certainly have photo evidence of my seeing the birds. Let's come back to this question in a minute. First, let's see if I can ID any of the birds that were following our boat on the PEI fishing trip.

Let's see- large oceanic bird with orange-ish head, white body, and black wing tips. My guess is Northern Gannet, which matches the description from the All About Birds website. I looked through the other photos of the boat ride and can also tentatively ID a Greater Black Backed Gull. Cool. I'll add the Northern Gannet to my life list.

In this case, I think I am on solid ground to add the gannet to my list. But how far should we extend this concept? There are more questions that arise: Do I have to take the photo or simply be there for it to count? Does the photo have to focus on the bird of interest or could it simply be flying by in the background (photobombing, which birds are known to do)? Is there a time limit to this postmortem of old photos?

Sometimes I try to ID a bird and take a photo for good measure. I then inspect and reinspect the photo once back in the comforts of home using the digital zoom to look more carefully at the bird's size, shape, and coloration. Is this type of photo-ID different (better or worse) than dipping into the photos from yore?

We clearly need some guiding principles for this topic. Here is what I propose:
1) photos of birds taken by the ID'er or in close proximity of the birder are fair game.
2) using photos to help or supplement an ID is perfectly fine.
3) ID'ing non-target birds that happen to make it in one of your old photos is not acceptable.

Or in short, you can count the bird if it was the focus of the photograph and you saw the bird at the time of the photo. Otherwise the bird that happens to be in your photo (and probably wasn't noticed) should not count. Great! How many other life listers do I have lurking in my archives?

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