Sunday, December 7, 2014

Use a Camera Wildlife Watching

In my Google Plus feed this morning, I encountered a Ted Talk by Elizabeth Loftus: The Fiction of Memory. Since wildlife watching is all about memory, think "what do you see today?", I watched the video. It turns out our memory is "constructive in nature". "False memories" and misinformation can be planted into your remembrances. Yikes on many fronts.

Applying this information to wildlife watching/rare bird sightings, etc, could make the data/observation unreliable...unless independent corroboration is foundational to the work/report. This corroboration could be in the form of multiple persons independently reporting or documenting a bird sighting. This has been in place for some time in the birding community as a Rare Bird Report form. Still, if my memory is correct, a sighting by a single person even with descriptive text/drawings is not considered a "record" by most rare bird committees. This issue can be rendered moot just by capturing/supplying a photo (given a "good" photo) as documentation in the case of a wildlife observation.

A recent model camera (had "box" camera back then) may have made the difference in a rare bird report submitted to the California Rare Bird committee regarding a seabird sighting some nine years ago. I was aboard the Searcher for a five-day pelagic birding trip off of San Diego in 2005. On the early morning of September 8 came the call of "bird", most of us were in the galley having breakfast. Like everyone ran for the rear of the boat with binoculars. Saw a dark grey seabird over chum, made mental notes...bird did not stay long. Back in cabin many of us referred immediately to field guides...what was that? Many felt it was a Flesh-footed Shearwater, others had other opinions, me included. Never proved either way :-(

I only started using a DSLR camera consistently and regularly about five years ago, well into the digital camera age that started late 90's. I believe I did not adopt camera usage early on because of cost. Now that has changed, high quality point and shoot superzooms can now be had for ~$450. Usage of a DSLR has been the best thing I've ever done with my wildlife watching activities. Photography has been a catalyst for expanding into butterfly, dragonfly, wildflower, lichen, etc. watching. With this tool documenting and learning new plant and animal life has become easier, straightforward. Plus I get the added benefit of a visual product to inspire/motivate people about wildlife. Maybe you can ask Santa for a camera for Christmas...it will exponentially increase your learning, appreciation, citizen science efforts at sharing, recording and understanding wildlife. Here's a photo of juvenile Snow Goose I saw yesterday:
Snow Goose juvenile