Monday, May 28, 2007

Hey Folks,

Explanations and call for submission.

First, get your submissions for Circus of the Spineless to Mike Bergin at 10,000 Birds. He's our May host and he's raring to go on this next edition.

Second, Mike let me know middle of last week that something was amiss with COTS20. Only i didn't catch on to what was going on. Any glance at my blog will clue people in to my having been gone, gone, gone for the last 8 weeks or so, and blogging has been unaccomplishable, as has email, for those who've written. Anyway, something's haywire at milkriverblog (maybe at Blogger?) and my blog is a mess, with posts and graphics disappearing, or onlye showing up as bars. i've been working on it, but so far, no luck. Anyway, issue 20, which was all graphic, will be up again as soon as i can figure out why it's not accepting it, or maybe a text version until i do. So sorry for the delay in getting your stuff out to the world. P.s., when you send stuff to Mike, don't duplicate material you already sent me!

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Friday, May 25, 2007

ENV: Unidentified Beetle

Looking for ID help on this one. I believe i have this guy narrowed down to the genus Euphoria. Indeed, based on photos taken when i first found the bug i had identified it as E. sepulcralis. But it was an overcast day, and i kept the bug (two actually), and today when the sun peeked through a few moments, i took more pictures. Now i'm not sure of the ID. In particular i used Ed Riley's annotated Scarab checklist, and posited it against the species listed there. I was able to eliminate quite a few Euphoria possibilities by comparison to other resources, but am left with four possible species (mainly for lack of resources on them). E. sepulcralis remains a possibility. E. discicollis is left on the list, though i don't believe its requirements for nesting are available in the area (pocket gopher dung chambers). The other two, for which i find almost nothing, are E. nitens and E. casselberryi. Help?

Euphoria sp.
TX: Kerr County, 1 mile N of Ingram off TX27
22 May 2007 (photographed 25 May 2007)

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ENV: Numbers and Experts

This is in response to a long series of posts this week in the Texas Birding listserv Texbirds. I am responding here for two reasons -- one, the sheer length of this response; and two, because as further comments warrant i can add commentary directly to this post (in hopes i can make it more accessable/readable). This post has been linked elsewhere. Comments are welcome here or on Texbirds, or directly to me here.

WARNING: For those of you who tend to turn red when reading my posts, this one will make you volcanic, so best delete it now, or have the bottle of nitro pills ready. Not to mention that, in my typical fashion, it is long and rambling.

So, for the new folks on the list who may be totally in the dark about what’s going on i want to:

a) even though i think it’s common knowledge, i want to stop the rumors, and come out of the closet, and confess that I am the TexBirds numbers nazi;

b) freely own up to be being the #1 TexBirds snark;

c) confess that i don’t flame people offlist, if i am going to do it i do it right out in public;

but that d) most of the snark i take heat for is not directed at anyone, but is just an attempt to be funny, because i am a failed comedian.

Having said all that, i want to say that i believe that TexBirds is a community first and foremost, and that i have always presumed that this community aspires to operate as others do to a) help support and nurture each other as they/we grow, and b) to provide global information that helps others achieve personal and community goals. Under those presumptions, and you can love me or hate me for this, but i believe that a simple list without numbers is of no functional use to the community for either of the above purposes and indeed may be detrimental to the purposes of the community.

Does that mean they can’t be submitted, of course not. I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. You do what you want, and i’ll give up my chocolate chip cookie to defend your right to do it. My point though is, and has been, that if you wish to contribute to the benefit of the community, the best and quickest way to do so is to simply add numbers to your lists. And i believe that, deep down, all members who post to the list have this deep desire to be considered someone who has contributed to our knowledge. No?

[First clarification: i never said, don’t believe, and think it is ludicrous to attribute to me the idea that KEEPING lists without numbers is worthless, that people shouldn’t do that. The entire point from post one has been about the value of such posting a list to this community, not about its value to the individual.]

I think part of the issue with numbers here is in understanding what purpose is being driven toward.

I am thinking in terms of this being a community of bird students, with many widely diverging goals. Regardless of each individual’s goals, i think that, ostensibly, the objective of communication within the community is to provide information useful to the finding of birds and understanding of their distribution in order to promulgate identification. Therefore i am the one who initiated this long-running topic some years ago by proposing that the posting of a numbers-deficient list of birds was driven by ego, and was, in effect, useless. Both of those things were in direct relation to my concept of the a) and b) purposes i stated above for developing this community. If you’re not already thoroughly disgusted with me by now, perhaps i can explain further.

Helping bind the community together is the family helping/nurturing aspect of any list like this, in which the more experienced of the lot take the newer members (and these are not necessarily neophytes per se, but may be excellent birders from Norway scoping out a trip, or new residents having moved here from the Sierras with a vastly different avifauna) and guide them through the labyrinth of understanding identification issues, which leads to the accurate building of a lifelist/yardlist, which helps build an understanding of bird abundance and distribution, both directly affected by species behavior and ecological needs, which in turn helps folks build their lifelists by building their knowledge of why and when birds occur and where to find them under what circumstances in what habitats, ad circusum.

One of those binding things that some may get tired of, but that i see as one of these things in full display is the announcement of new yard birds and new lifers. In addition to letting us share in important milestones by which we can congratulate and further encourage folks, it also is educational in that it allows those of us who’ve been around a while to determine at what level someone has progressed. Someone announcing their 100th lifer has a different degree of experience than someone announcing their 700th US bird, and neither of which, by the way, says anything about their expertise – ask the pro tour leaders on this list about having Brits on their tours who have never seen a US bird.

Likewise someone who has had their first yard Cardinal allows us to recognize that they are different than someone who has identified their first yard Selasphorus, versus someone who just had 27 Hoary Redpolls in their south Texas yard. So too do those who announce their 100th and 200th and 300th lifer send a different message to the rest of us than someone who announces their 100th lifer, and then announces traveling to Fort Stockton to see a Tufted Flycatcher, and then is signing off TexBirds for a month to tag along with Greg Lasley to Antarctica. One of the great pleasures of having been on TexBirds a few years is watching some folks who asked for help IDing Savannah Sparrows, now posting to the list on the finesse involved in separating Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers. Let’s just face it -- we all judge others, and are judged. We all use clues to make these judgments, and nothing is more public than posting your own clues online.

On to numbers. The idea here is that TexBirds, presuming it is a community of BIRDERS not ornithologists, exists as a community of people helping each other learn about Texas birds, but also as a bird-finding and distribution guide. It’s not meant to be a scientifically testable database, Everyone else here of experience has and can testify to the extreme limitations of that. Nevertheless it IS a permanent archive of sightings dating back many years now, and people DO use it for not only determining where birds occur, but also for planning trips, including emergency rare bird trips to see birds. I know this is true, because at least half of the queries i receive that are connected to TexBirds in some way have to do with finding specific birds.

So let’s develop some scenarios, if you’ll indulge me.

If we were interested in filling a database with the exact numbers of Snow Geese in ten locations in Texas, the only modus operandi would be to count exactly the number of geese in those locations. There are, albethem expensive and tedious, ways to do this, going back to older methods of aerial photography and the ornithologically infamous method of punching holes with a needle in photos to make sure you don’t double count. Algorithms could be written to do this by computer these days, but it still starts out expensive. Ground-truthing or simple ground counting can be done too, but in many areas where Snow Geese winter, you can’t approach close enough to do this accurately (because of a lack of roads (try between High Island and Sabine Pass for instance), or because of their wariness, or because you simply can’t humanly do it – those of you who have ever scoped a SE Texas flock of 25,000 geese know that their heads bob up and down with such sewing machine-like rapidity that keeping track of any single goose is impossible, made most obvious in trying to point out the occasional Ross’s in a flock of Snows. So this idea that the only good data is perfect data is immediately put to the test. We can always hope for perfect numbers, and while exact numbers, or a number within some standard deviation would be ideal, it’s a) generally not workable, and b) is not necessary for the purposes of this community and what can be gained from it.

Bear with this rather pedantic simplification please. Let’s say someone is a new birder in Midland, and has never seen a Snow Goose and would like to add that as a lifer. They query the archives or see three recent posts listing Snow Goose. Let’s just fictitiously look at three lists:

Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken NWR
Green-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Mottled Duck
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Snow Goose
Great Egret
Great Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron

Gonzales, Texas
Ring-necked Duck
Green-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Snow Goose
Great Egret
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron

Abilene Settling Ponds
Lesser Scaup
Ring-necked Duck
Green-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Snow Goose
Great Egret
Great Blue Heron

Well a new birder from Midland might think this is easy, i’ll skip on over to Abilene to get Snow Goose, might even make a couple or three trips before someone clues them in that Snow Goose is a rarity there. Might have been a one-day wonder, might even be a new county record, might even be a Ross’s Goose if the original reporter was less than familiar with the bird, since a single white goose in west Texas is always suspect – not to mention the possibility of feral barnyard geese.

Let’s look at the same lists though with the simple addition of a few numbers, even if most are raw estimates:

Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken NWR
4000 Green-winged Teal
750 Northern Pintail
60 Mallard
100 Mottled Duck
250 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
25,000 Snow Goose
65 Great Egret
30 Great Blue Heron
12 Tricolored Heron

Gonzales, Texas
50 Ring-necked Duck
250 Green-winged Teal
300 Northern Shoveler
45 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
250 Snow Goose
3 Great Egret
15 Great Blue Heron
1 Little Blue Heron

Abilene Settling Ponds
50 Lesser Scaup
100 Ring-necked Duck
250 Green-winged Teal
200 Northern Shoveler
1 Snow Goose
1 Great Egret
5 Great Blue Heron

In this case, even someone who is new can see that they could take a chance on Abilene, but there is a better possibility at Gonzales, and it looks like a sure thing at Attwater. In addition, they might find out that another bird they were looking for, like Green-winged Teal, is a decent shot at all three.

So this is what i mean by my presumption that TexBirds is a community where the purpose of posting is to help someone else. Or else why post? Surely underlying all this, new or old, is the hope that one can actually make a contribution. My earliest point, which i maintain, is that a post without numbers is not helpful to anyone else in the community. I further that here by this example, showing that such posts can even be deceptive, that such posts can appear to be helpful and instead cause folks to expend time and energy and cash in fruitless search. With gas prices the way they are today every birding “trip” becomes expensive. And none of this has anything to do with the statistical validity of the estimates people present.

Here’s a certain true example. A certain birder out west had this cute habit of posting a ringer in every list he put on the listserv. And he posted nearly daily lists because he was a field biologist investigating some cool spots In every list though was some Andean or Himalayan or Siberian species thrown in just for a giggle. He told me later that he specifically put only species in there that were sedentary and had no chance of straying to his home turf.

I wasn’t happy with him because, i said, it polluted the archives, only to be hit with the “archives are worthless anyway” argument (which i disagree with, in philosophy and in practice, but which argument i’ll save for some other day). I had written him asking him to stop. He refused. Not long after he posted a list, and a gentleman saw this odd bird on the list and gathered up a bunch of cronies and travelled a few hundred miles to see it (yeah, yeah, he should have researched the bird to see what he was looking for, and realized it wasn’t likely, but he didn’t, and to top it off he was a retired federal ornithologist, so we’re all susceptible).

It was a popular birding spot, and as i recall the scenario other birders were present, just birding, when he arrived and on query found out it was all a joke. There was some public scolding over it -- guy A replied he thought everyone understood it was a joke, was unapologetic and eventually just disappeared from the list. But there were some hard feelings over that. And of course, the suspect posts were signed with some titles, and bureaus and stuff, and so the air of authority somewhat permeated the whole fiasco. Sorry for the long aside there.

As for the process of keeping numbers, and probably stepping all over territory Greg and Josh have already covered, people remember when they see one, two or three birds. Those are easy. What difference does it make, statistically relevant or not, whether someone actually saw five birds but only wrote down four. It doesn’t, at least in terms of this community. What’s important is that a few were seen in that spot on that day by this observer. Does it matter whether the number is related to the actual numbers of that species present in that spot on that day? No. TexBirds is not a population survey, but a community of folks helping others to understand the distribution of birds so that they might better FIND the ones they want, and identify the ones they see. So when someone on the coast reports that they saw 200 Brewer’s Sparrows on a field trip, those who know (as Ted wrote about the daily errors) about the distribution of birds will realize they saw immature Chipping Sparrows, whereas, if someone reports ONE Brewer’s Sparrow among 200 Chippings on the coast, then they realize that it may well have been an immature Chipping Sparrow, BUT that if someone had taken the time to differentiate it from other Chippies then there’s that chance and someone may ask for details or if a picture was taken, because in most Texas coastal counties Brewer’s would be a new county record.

Does it matter if you saw a huge flock of geese and just vaguely guessed 10,000 and there were really 11,200? or 25,000, or 100,000? Not for the purposes of this list. The idea that there were thousands present is the information needed here. Even in archived information used to develop a checklist, there is no use in designating the difference between 10,000 abundant and 25,000 abundant.

That is what is meant by determining relative abundance, not total population size. And all of this is about observation too. People want to see these things. People don’t travel to High Island and look at a checklist and say, “oh look there’s a record of Yucatan Vireo here, so i’ll just go ahead and check it off on my lifelist.” Nor do they seek out Clapper Rail for their lifelist and drive through the marshes of Chambers County and say “well, i know they’re out there by the hundreds, so i’ll just go ahead and check it off my list.” So the argument about counting birds seen versus their actual population status is moot.

This list is about people seeing birds. So someone may query about where to go to see Clapper Rails, and twenty people may post about having seen them at Anahuac – meaning once twelve years ago, or a half dozen times over the last decade, or one yesterday. But one person posting they saw twenty in one morning at Rollover Pass pinpoints a good place to see this common but elusive bird, regardless of whether or not it is far more abundant in many other places. How many birds have shown up that are abundant in places but people only get a chance to see them when they show up as a single vagrant at some narrowly defined location?

At some danger here i want to point out some examples i believe of why there has been an exodus of talent from this list (or at least a reluctance to post or reply). I don’t know any other way to do this, except to show some examples, some i was directly involved in snarking out (you can search the archives for the lurid posts). The danger is in my presenting myself as one of the “experts”, which i am not, but do feel somewhat in the experienced camp, since i am old, fat and bald, studied ornithology in school, and have even been paid as a faculty member teaching it andpaid to lead trips – all of which is mostly in the past except the old, fat and bald which are most assuredly present tense.

While i for one am a constant adviser of the value of the archives, i usually will take someone who has a straightforward question and either direct them to the archives, or go to the archives myself, look up past discussions and send them links, or answer the questions directly. I know others on the list who do this in the same way. With folks who clearly seem to be neophytes and by all appearances are earnest about discovering how to learn i take great pains to do this gently and lead them down the right path.

Where I have changed, and i know at least a few others who have done the same, is that i no longer much post these answers to the list but do it privately. I think this has gotten much more common across the board and i base that solely on the number of posts from folks thanking “the ten people who replied offlist about the identification”. I do this because i feel like repeating these same bits of info ad infinitum onlist is just TMI to deal with for most of the list, AND it is available in some form somewhere in the archives.

If the question seems genuinely new, not dealt with on TexBirds before, or adds a new twist, i have no hesitation in responding to the list (except that i think most of the other experienced birders feel this same way and usually beat me to it, after which, adding a “ditto” serves no purpose). The benefit of this alternate approach is that for these new questions, then the archives has built a new chapter for future learners.

Here’s where i get snarky (besides from being a full-blown cynic): when i think there needs to be intervention is in cases where one of two things happens: the generally innocent a) someone posts a rarity, or an unseemly location or number that i think, without correction, threatens to contaminate the archives or causes someone of less experience to absorb damaging, incorrect information; or the insidious b) cases where someone steps out of line with regard to an identification or bit of scientific knowledge, that is, someone who is pretending to have a mental encyclopedia but really only has the cliff notes, if that (and, by the way, those people on the list who simply make things up . . . how do you deal with that . . . well, there really is not a diplomatic way, and some of these folks are so forceful with their modicum of superficial knowledge that many newbies take them for experts, thus further polluting the whole process . . . this by itself has caused me many times to want to abandon TexBirds).

Let’s look at a) first. Real example. Last year someone posted an observation of a huge flock of Whooping Cranes. The location was in a place where it would be reasonable for a Whooping Crane to be seen. It was at the tail end of migration when Whooping Cranes were still moving toward the wintering grounds. And the details posted were correct for, if not diagnostic of, Whooping Cranes. All those things weighed in favor of the ID. At least one person made a trip to find this flock of Whoopers, thereby using a full day of driving and searching, plus gas, and likely other expenses. I waited a couple of days to see if someone else might, more gently than i, question this observation. But when no one did, i snarkily jumped in, afraid that more folks might go look for the birds, and that this piece of info would go unchallenged.

In reality, i have no idea how many people, what percentage of TexBirds, realized this observation could not be, and how many bought right into it, thinking “wow, how cool to see so many Whoopers at once.” What experience (meaning having seen quite a few myself in the wild, having read every weekly report from Aransas over the years, having read National Geographic, having watched Disney films, having discussed it with many of the “pros” on this list, having been indirecetly involved in research on the bird) told me was that a) as a habit, as a rule, Whoopers migrate in family groups, meaning three, maybe four or five birds if young from previous years were hanging out with them. That, on the wintering grounds themselves, their food needs require them to have large feeding territories, also divided by family groups, and that they do not flock there either. But more than anything else, every Whooping Crane alive in the world is individually accounted for by the US and Canadian Wildlife Services, every single one, and that the week before, in an aerial survey at Aransas and area, all but a few family groups had already arrived on wintering grounds and were accounted for, leaving less than half the reported flock somewhere still en route to Aransas.

That made it perfectly impossible for this flock to exist outside of a space-time warp. And so i tried to set the record straight – after which i got jumped on for failing to warn folks days earlier that this wasn’t true, in addition to being jumped on for being snarky and insensitive and all that. So, numbers played a part again – this time pointing out the impossibility of a sighting. Had, instead, only a single Whooper been reported, a lot of folks would have acceded to the possibility and the sighting been seriously considered.

About the same time, a Fork-tailed Flycatcher showed up near Austin, probably setting a record for the longest observed individual in state history, but it oddly led to a flurry of reports across the state of this decidedly rare bird, sometimes in groups, when, while not impossible, would at least be unprecedented. None of the others came with photos or details, but they are lodged firmly in the archives. Raise your hand if you traveled to see a Fork-tail that didn’t exist. Again, because most people on the list were too nice to object publicly, i did the snarkdown on that one too, and got jumped on again for questioning people's abilities, and worse i was probably a communist.

Dare i mention the international incident i caused by questioning a certain raptor at a certain illogical site?

One of the things about community is the necessity of policing. Part of that has to do with the stonebound rules of the group. Ted and E.G. began, and passed the mantle on to David, to safeguard the list within the bounds of its purpose. But no community is totally contained by its police department. A newspaper plays a policing role as well, reporting on things of interest to all, much as posting on the list does. Where people go to bird is somewhat guided by who is seeing what and where and whether they post it. Letters to the editor and editorials and the blotters also are part of that function – calling folks out about transgressions that affect the community even if they’re not illegal (so to speak). Some folks don’t mind getting drunk, until their name shows up in the paper for it. And of course the community itself must police itself when it comes to moral standards. While most folks would defend everyone’s right to say what they feel, they also feel little reservation in smacking back what they feel about what someone else feels, ad uninterruptum. Nevertheless, when someone gets slapped by the collective conscience of the group then a personal decision has to be made about whether saying something is worth the risk, or if it would be more judicious to just shut up. And a number of people here have just shut up.

Likewise, any community has its pretenders. Let’s go back to b) above. That is, faulty or faux or just plain slimy information being proffered with the sound of authority. This is both the most damaging thing that happens on TexBirds in my opinion, and also the diciest to deal with. First, of course, is who’s to say who is an “expert” or a “pro” and who isn’t. Who’s to certify that someone who says something is knowledgeable enough to make a pronouncement and have it accepted as gospel? Well, no one of course, but over the years, spending time with folks, and listening to all the cross-gossip and criticism, one begins to ferret out who is credible and who isn’t. That’s something wholly missing, this community intellect, to anyone who’s joining this list as a neophyte or simply a new TexBirder.

There’re a lot of folks’ names floating around on posts the last couple of days from the old days. I learned at all these folks’ feet and more. I think Jim Morgan is the person who taught me directly more about birding than anyone i ever knew, yet you won’t see his posts here, not sure he even reads them anymore, and you don’t often see his name mentioned. But he is one of the legends. He was incredibly wise and gracious and knowledgeable. My numbers fetish comes from him (not because he had one, but because he was meticulous about understanding the meaning of numbers in relation to distribution and movement – Ted mentioned him this week in discussion about fallouts, which were Jim’s passion).

Likewise i learned from all those others who took me under their wings when i was a smartmouth know-it-all kid, many of them peers, some even the next generation teaching old me -- Kelly Bryan, Greg Lasley, David Stuart, Chuck Sexton, Ted Eubanks, Fred Collins, Dave and Jan Dauphin, John and Gloria Tveten, Victor Emanuel, Ben and Linda Feltner, Charlie Clark, Ed Kutac, Mary Ann Chapman, Elric McHenry, John and Barbara Ribble, John Arvin, Richard Albert, Steve West, Mark Lockwood, Derek Muschalek, Willie Sekula, Randy Pinkston, Bret Whitney, Peter Scott, Dave and Mimi Wolf, Kevin and Barry Zimmer, Ron & Marcia Braun, Peter Cantle, Steve Labuda, Alma Barrera, Frances Williams, John and Letty O’Neill, a whole slew of Wiedenfelds, Ernie and Kay Mueller, and the ornithologist-types Doug Slack, Keith Arnold, Ralph Moldenhauer, Dean Fisher, Terry Maxwell, Jim Scudday, and those who i’ve gained so much from even though our friendship/fieldwork together has been relatively recent including such folks as Brush Freeman, Martin Reid, Stennie Meadours, Ron Weeks, Mike Overton, the Heindels. Those are names you should know if you hope to be a student of Texas Birds (and there are others who i didn’t know personally back then, but you should know their names, like Fred Webster, Warren Pulich, the Rowletts, Edgar Kincaid, Arlie Mackay, Tony Bennett, Kay McCracken, Andy O'Neil, Ro Wauer, Charles Easley, Ken Seyffert, Gene Blacklock, Clarence Cottam, and Connie Hagar). And then there is the LSU cohort . . . most of them with big Texas backgrounds and continued interest here. It pains me that in this dashing off of a post i know i’m leaving important people (friends!) off this list, so my mea culpas now . . .

In that coterie of folks that Ted pointed out has been lost as a social group are also a certifiably wild astronaut, now known as the first man to ever fly free in space untethered to a spacecraft, a pulitzer winning author, and a bunch of complete flakes. But you had to be part of that social group to understand who the flakes were. Under the wing of a mentor you were warned well in advance about them. And having digested that, you still learned a great deal from those very flakes. But the foreknowledge was important.

In the cybirding world no one comes equipped with a pop-up flake detector like you do for viruses. And new birders, and birders new to the list, don’t know coming in that i’m a certifiable flake, so they might read this post and think i’m being serious. The same with posts from others who take on an air of authority, without having the benefit of knowledge or experience. So how to deal with that? I don’t know. I have taken some to task online, not by attacking them (i tried to do that once, and Ted wisely kept me from it, but it only forestalled me being discovered for a short while), but by going after the information provided. Of course these are taken as personal attacks anyway, much as the ones i’ll get in return for this long-winded diatribe will be. Unfortunately some of these people have fan clubs and the barrage of defenses then turns the tide back toward disinformation. I don’t follow those up, but resign knowing the community has suffered.

Instead, what has evolved are backchannel groups that discuss various things that happen on TexBirds. I have a standard list of emailees that i send my snark to, and they respond with huzzahs or their own snark that they’d never post online themselves, and we laugh and move on. The unfortunate part is that once again, the community suffers, because some good info does not make it to the list, and bad info becomes ingrained in some people’s minds as gospel truth.

Likewise i am aware of other coteries that routinely bash the "pros" offlist. That too is good for the purpose of stress relief, but i have to wonder if the list again hasn’t lost something important. I don’t know “pros” or “experts” or whatever who won’t stand up to being questioned. That is the process of learning for all of us. They must be able to support their stands with information that is convincing, or in some cases re-examine the question themselves. Once again, without holding myself up as an expert of any kind, for what it’s worth, in the last few months i have at least twice (i think three, but can’t remember the third) proffered an identification for a photo, only to back off and change my mind – once on an offlist photo sent me, and once on an online photo (the partial albino blackbird of a few months ago) – based on others’ opinions and points well-taken.

That brings me to one of those other disconcerting things, one that Greg touched on. The bird poll. This is one of the more disgusting things to have popped up on TexBirds and i have no idea where it originated or how it evolved, but i can guess. Last week there was an ABC poll (ABCNews is my browser homepage). It asked: Was Shawn Hornbeck sexually abused while being held captive for four years? And my immediate thought was, well if we vote that he was, either he must have been, or if he wasn’t we ought to have it done because that’s the way America voted, and when America speaks . . . I mean, is it true that our country has devolved socially to the point where we have to vote on things we have zero firsthand knowledge of? The example i used to use was a poll on OJ Simpson’s guilt, but this one takes the cake.

So it is with polls on birds. Someone might point out that the TBRC does just that, votes on the identity of birds, but it’s not a poll, it is a judgment based on the expertise of folks who have studied not only the details and photos present before them, but on research done on that regard often with specimens in hand, and who discuss the points among themselves. To me it’s the difference between a jury voting and Average America voting. Further, they vote on whether or not the evidence presented is enough to rule out anything else than what it is purported to be.

And even then, the TBRC has several times re-examined earlier votes based on new challenges or new techniques in identification, or new knowledge about a species. And yes, some IDs have been changed to unknowns, some to other species.

It hurts much to see on TexBirds where someone with extensive experience has gone to great pains to help someone with an identification (John Arvin, in particular, one of the most patient and gracious teachers alive, and one of the most avially learned persons on the planet, does this constantly), sometimes going feather by feather in detailing why something is a given species, only to have their time-consuming effort thrown into the pot as a vote along with a bunch of other “votes” that consisted only of someone emailing a bird name without any corroborating evidence, many of them likely pure guesses, often clearly based on a cursory flip through a field guide without any personal field or museum skin experience. Why after all, would someone with no field experience at all with a species be offering a proposed identification? Is this a game show, or a community of folks trying to help others learn identification, and learn the identities of certain problematic individuals? Polls have, in my mind, completely obliterated that line here. If, instead, folks with no experience want to ask questions and propose identities, without “voting” in a poll, then that would be a path toward, once again, helping everyone in the community learn something. Unfortunately, many “experts” no longer offer extensive opinions anymore because of things like polls.

Along with Ted’s loss of the social group thing, i’d point out another loss. One of the most common questions asked in any birding class is “What’s the best method for learning the birds.” My stock answer is, will always be, spending time in the field with someone who knows what they’re doing. As the modus for gaining information has turned increasingly to online methods we seem to have become dependent on it for all things birding – locations, directions, fieldmarks.

One day in the field with a legend will change you forever. You’ll never approach birding the same way again – for some it might mean deciding it’s not for you, or that you’ll be forever happy with the Cardinals and Chippies at your feeders. For others though it opens up an unimaginable landscape of possibility. One day in the field with someone like that can make you insatiable for similar details about all the birds you didn’t see, and will lead you to learn those things about the birds you haven't seen before you get to the field (dare i bring up the Brits again?). For me that is the defining characteristic of someone who has crossed that threshhold – the folks who go into the field with a knowledge base of what they are looking for, and what they might encounter, rather than going into the field and having to return to an anonymous list full of vague questions about glimpsed birds which result in narrow questions from the experts that you can’t recall for not having been prepared.

A few other notes that come to mind (but that i don’t want to re-edit the previous 8000 to accommodate in a logical sequence):

Another of those disconcerting group-think, me-too, me-too, borderline one-upsmanship things that drive knowledge people away is the thing about posting something important and then others post a gazillion observations of little or no relevance thereby denigrating the import of the first. The newbie, unable then to distinguish between reports of honest value and the morass of minutiae that follows, completely loses perspective.

I once posted about an inland White-tailed Hawk, just a quick note, nothing life-changing, but somewhat important because these birds are generally regarded as coastal. In return came a slew of “so what" posts -- we had it here, here and here, many of them indeed coastal, thereby losing the context of the conversation. Unfortunately, some other noteworthy inland records were also brought out, including others in the vicinity i reported it, but these too were likewise engulfed by the maelstrom of trivia. That’s another reason for knowing not just what comes through your backyard, but knowing what is noteworthy for your area, and a need to understand the role of habitat, and numbers, and distribution, etc.

The ever-present danger of pedantry. Sometimes there’s no easy way to give out the information except to just give it out, even if it comes across as arrogant.

And, as Ted intimated, we do scan the lists, numbers or no – in part to see if possible rarities are out there, or to judge folks by their errors, etc. Witness the number of times that folks have posted that someone wrote in with questions about a bird on their list, and have now realized they had something else. Those folks are learning and growing, and i’m paying attention to their progress. To get huffy and refuse to post in the future is to abandon perhaps the best learning tool TexBirds offers (the help of others – even if it is sometimes pedantic, snarky, or arrogant).

I’ve spent a lot of brain cells thinking about this over the past week and one of the realizations i came to has to do with recognizing pride at work. I am a teacher. I work with, have always worked with the most difficult children, right now my “career”, if you will, is in working with severely sexually and emotionally abused children. I know a thing or two about learning styles and methods. I know, in our touchy-feely age, that gentle teaching goes a long way in building self-esteem. And for some populations that is important.

Here is what i recognized about myself though: all the touchy-feely learning i was subjected to didn’t really teach me much. I learned by way of challenge. By deciding i wanted to learn something because it interested me, or because i was wounded. In other words, someone insulted my intelligence or dignity. This was usually the result of sarcasm, cynicism, putdowns. All these years later, the snark makes no difference to me, but i am wiser. I never wanted folks telling me i couldn’t do or know something. Maybe i’m fooling myself with this self-epiphany, and maybe i’m just rationalizing my obstinance here. I don’t really know. What i do know is that embarrassment has caused me to dive into learning something more than anything else i can think of right now, and in turn has resulted in my being who i am. Aaaah, no need to prolong that.

So, i think folks can have all the birding fun they want without progressing, but really, deep down, does anyone want to be scoffed at? I’d bet people are here to learn, which means at some level they want to be good at this, which means at some other level they want to contribute. Else, again, why post to this list at all?

tony g
frustrated snarky faux-expert

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

ENV: Trying again on Jim's Quiz

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

LIT: The Octette Bridge Club

The newest production from the Guadalupe Stage Quartet -- P.J. Barry's The Octette Bridge Club -- opens Thursday night at Warrior Theatre in Ingram. I'm directing a wonderful cast of eight beautiful ladies plus Charles Bryant and can't wait to get the show off the ground. I hope you'll come see it if you have a chance.

Here's the PR end of the news:

The Octette Bridge Club
By P.J. Barry

Produced by

The Guadalupe Stage Quartet

May 10-20 2007, Warrior Theatre, Ingram, Texas

Shows – 7:30 curtain
Thursday May 10; Friday May 11; Saturday May 12
Friday May 18; Saturday May 19; Sunday May 20

Matinee – 3:00 curtain

Sunday May 13

Matinees – 3:00 curtain
Sunday May 20

Bottom L-R: Chaille Hawkins, Holly Riedel, Louise Leahy, Pam Frierson, Emily Houghton

Produced by Holly Riedel, Directed by Tony Gallucci
Cast: Marie Cearley, Pam Frierson, Chaille Hawkins, Emily Houghton, Louise Leahy, Holly Riedel, Ruthie Schmuck, Sarah Tacey and Charles Bryant

All proceeds benefit the Roy Burney Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund and the Ingram Tom Moore High School Thespian Troupe
It’s 1934, we’re in the heart of the depression, one big war is over, another is looming, and women of the era are coming into their own. For eight sisters of the Donavan clan, however, each must travel her own path.

The Guadalupe Stage Quartet is pleased to present, in their second production, P.J. Barry’s “The Octette Bridge Club” – a look at these eight sisters as they navigate the changes America takes in the middle of the 20th Century. Some find the path straight ahead, others find it winding, but for all it has it’s own little tortures.

Watch as the eight gather for a biweekly bridge game at Halloween 1934 and muse about their loves, their husbands and their children – then peek again ten years later to find out where their paths have taken them – through illness, physical and mental, philandering husbands, overseas sons, and hanging corsets out to dry.

This show is a reprisal of a school performance directed by Holly Riedel, who brought us this play. Her late husband, Roy Burney, a founding member of the Quartet, is again being honored by our production. This show also helps fund an endowed scholarship for a senior theatre student in his name, and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Ingram Tom Moore Thespians, his beloved theatre students at the high school.

The Octette Bridge Club runs two weekends, with 7:30 shows from Thursday through Saturday, May 10-12, and Friday through Sunday, May 18-20, and 3 p.m. matinees on Sundays, May 13 and 20 at the Ingram Independent School District’s Warrior Theatre. Tickets are $10 each and can be reserved by calling 377-8957. Tickets can be purchased from any cast member. The play features some adult language and involves some adult situations – caution is urged for those with young children and for those with tenderer sensibilities.

The Guadalupe Stage Quartet was formed in 2005 to present quality dramatic performances in association with area theatres. The founding members are Riedel, Burney, Marie Cearley and Tony Gallucci.

Burney was a theatre teacher at Ingram Tom Moore before his death of cancer in August 2006. In honor of Roy’s starring turn in it, and to put on a show celebratory of his impact on his students and the local theatre scene, Lend Me A Tenor was chosen to initiate the GSQ series in the Fall of 2006. The Octette Bridge Club is the Quartet’s second production.

At his death, the remaining members, at Riedel’s suggestion, dedicated themselves to using their shows to help raise money to send outstanding theatre students to school beyond Ingram, and to furnish seed money for convention and play-going trips as part of the educational experience for area Thespians.

The Guadalupe Stage Quartet plans to produce The Drawer Boy this coming summer, and will follow that up this fall with The Lion In Winter.

The Cast: Marie Cearley as Martha McDermitt, the oldest; Louise Leahy as Mary Donavan, the second; Ruthie Schmuck as Nora Hiller, the third; Holly Riedel as Connie Emerson, the fourth; Chaille Hawkins as Alice Monahan, the fifth; Pam Frierson as Ann Conroy, the sixth; Emily Houghton as Lil Carmody, the seventh; Sarah Tacey as Betsy Bailey, the youngest; and Charles Bryant as Robert Foster, the photographer

Producer: Holly Riedel; Director: Tony Gallucci; Assistant Directors: Holly Riedel & Charles Bryant; Light Design: Dan Schmidt; Costumes: Ruthie Schmuck & friends; Sound Design: Tony Gallucci

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

ENV: Big Springs Ranch Report, 6 May 2007

Floral & Faunal Survey of BIG SPRINGS RANCH
north of Leakey, Real County, Texas
6 May 2007

TX: Real County, Big Springs on the Frio River, Big Springs Ranch, 9 miles N of Leakey E off US83 (location bounded by HEB Camp/Laity Lodge and Lost Maples State Natural Area), gate: 29.8437dN 099.6508dW, 1900’ elev., 29 April 2007, 7:45 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., 75-77dF, heavy overcast, constant drizzle, occasional light rain, warm and muggy. Tony Gallucci (Ingram).

On this trip 68 taxa were either added new to the Ranch list or observed for the first time during the new series of surveys begun in April 2006, and thus confirmed continued presence.

Post Codes and Classification
* Feral, Introduced, Adventitious, Invasive and/or Exotic, but free-ranging
** Exotic, but captive or cultivated
*** Native, but captive or cultivated
☼ Breeding or nesting on the property
^ Documented by photograph
Common Name, Scientific name, Codes
This symbol * before the name indicates flowering this date.
This symbol # before the name indicates fruiting this date.

1 Asian Clam, Corbicula fluminea
32 White Globesnail, Helicina orbiculata
5 Roemer’s Mitre Snail, Metastoma roemeri roemeri
3 Texas Mitre Snail, Microceramus texanus (New for BSRC)

webs Long-jawed Orb-weaver sp.

1 Gray-striped Fly sp.
1 Ghost Cranefly, Brachypremna dispellens (New for BSRC)
2 Mosquito sp.
3 Shoreline Fly sp.

1 Red and Gold Wasp sp. on Mealy Sage ^
1 Red and Black Wasp on Woolly-white ^
4 European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
+ Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta ^
+ Native Fire Ant, Solenopsis xyloni ^
+ Black-fuzzy-butt Orange Honeycomb Limestone Ant, cf. Camponotus sp. ^
+ Road Burrow Ant sp.

4 Pygmy Grasshopper sp. undetermined

1 Tree Cricket sp., Oecanthus sp.

20 Notonectid sp. Notonecta sp.
2 Water Boatman sp., Hesperocorixa sp.
+ Gerrid Strider sp., Gerris sp.
+ Veliid Strider sp., Rhagovelia sp.
+ cf. Scarlet Plant Bug sp. on Texas Mountain Laurel, cf. Lopidea sp.
3 Spittle Bug sp.
2 Big-headed Bug, Megalotomus quinquespinosus (Say)

2 Spotted Tiger Beetle, Cicindela punctulata punctulata Olivier
1 Small Coppery Cotinis-like Scarab Beetle sp. ^

+ Tent Caterpillar sp. on Yellow Buckeye ☼
150 of ca. 9 sp. Unidentified Moth (some ^)
2 Geometer Moth sp. I
2 Gold Pyralid moth sp.
1 Pearly White Pyralid Moth sp.
1 Ironweed Root Moth
304 Day-flying Moth, Hypocala andromoena

2 Tatius (Mournful) Duskywing/Funereal Duskywing, Erynnis tristis tatius/funeralis
2 Funereal Duskywing, Erynnis funeralis
5 Eastern Dun Skipper, Euphyes vestris metacomet
1 Southern Broken-Dash, Wallengrenia otho otho (J.E. Smith) ^
1 Sachem, Atalopedes campestris
1 Nysa Roadside-Skipper, Amblyscirtes nysa W.H. Edwards ^

3 Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor philenor (Linnaeus)
2 Eastern Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes asterius Stoll
1 Orange Sulphur, Colias eurytheme Boisduval ^
1 Little Yellow, Pyrisitia lisa lisa (Boisduval & Le Conte)
40 Sleepy Orange, Abaeis nicippe (Cramer) ^
34 Dainty Sulphur, Nathalis iole Boisduval ^
30 Checkered White, Pontia protodice ^
1 Texan Olive Hairstreak, Callophrys (Mitoura) gryneus castalis (W.H. Edwards) ^
15 Plains Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus franki Field ^
22 Reakirt’s Blue, Echinargus isola alce (W.H. Edwards) ^
4 Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis
2 Western Queen, Danaus gilippus thersippus (H.W. Bates) ^
3 Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia (Cramer)
5 Phaon Crescent, Phyciodes phaon ^
8 Vesta Crescent, Phyciodes graphica vesta (W.H. Edwards) ^
5 Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia Hübner
36 Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta ^

40 Large Tiger-striped Ephemeropteran Nymph

6 American Rubyspot, Hetaerina americana (Fabricius)
4 Kiowa Dancer, Argia immunda (Hagen)
4 Blue-ringed Dancer, Argia sedula (Hagen)
1 Dot-winged-complex Baskettail, Epitheca cf. petechialis
1 Pale-faced Clubskimmer, Brechmorhoga mendax (Hagen)
1 Widow Skimmer, Libellula luctuosa (New for BSRC)

6 Channel Catfish, Ictalurus punctatus
1 Common Carp, Cyprinus carpio
32 Roundnose Minnow, Dionda episcopa
22 Blacktail Shiner, Cyprinella venusta
3 Shiner sp. III
130 Largespring Mosquitofish, Gambusia geiseri
14 Redbreast Sunfish, Lepomis auritus
8 Redear Sunfish, Lepomis microlophus
1 Largemouth Bass, Micropterus salmoides

30+100lv Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, Acris crepitans blanchardi ☼
1 Cliff Chirping Frog, Eleutherodactylus/Syrrhopus marnocki
4lv Rio Grande Leopard Frog, Rana berlandieri ☼
1lv Large Frog sp.

3+nest with at least 2 young Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias ☼
15 Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
2+possible cave nest site Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus (☼?)
1 Osprey, Pandion haliaeetus (New for BSRC)
5 Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularius
2 Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
1 White-winged Dove, Zenaida asiatica
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Coccyzus americana
1 Black-chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri
2 Green Kingfisher, Chloroceryle americana
6 Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Picoides scalaris
2+nest Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe ☼
2 Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
5 Eastern Wood-Pewee, Contopus virens
10 Ash-throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
3 Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus
6 White-eyed Vireo, Vireo griseus
3 Yellow-throated Vireo, Vireo flavifrons
3 Red-eyed Vireo, Vireo olivaceus
1 Blue-headed Vireo, Vireo solitarius
2 Western Scrub-Jay, Aphelocoma coerulescens
2+nest with 3 young Common Raven, Corvus corax ☼^
16 Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica
6 Cave Swallow, Petrochildon fulva
30+nest colony Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota ☼
2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Stelgidopteryx serripennis
4 Purple Martin, Progne subis
86 Swallow sp.
4 Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis
14 Black-crested Titmouse, Baeolophus atricristatus
2 Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
7 Bewick's Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
6 Canyon Wren, Catherpes mexicanus
4 Carolina Wren, Thryothorus carolinensis
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Polioptila caerulea
1 Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
1 Gray Catbird, Dumetella carolinense

3 Parula sp., Parula sp.
2 Black-and-White Warbler, Mniotilta varia
5 Golden-cheeked Warbler, Dendroica chrysoparia
6 Yellow-throated Warbler, Dendroica dominica
5 Louisiana Waterthrush, Seiurus motacilla
1 Yellow-breasted Chat, Icteria virens
9 Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra
3 Chipping Sparrow, Spizella passerina
2 Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Aimophila rufescens
8 Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus
1 Dickcissel, Spiza americana
10 Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis
2 Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris
2 Bronzed Cowbird, Molothrus aeneus
5 House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus
7 Lesser Goldfinch, Carduelis psaltria

several pawprints Large Cat (large Bobcat/Small Mountina Lion)
damage Domestic Pig [Feral Hog], Sus scrofa
5 Afghan Ural/Persian Red Sheep, Ovis ammon gmelini
2 Ibex X Spanish Goat, Capra sp. X Capra hirca ^
2 Llama, Auchenia glama
7 Domestic Horse [Quarterhorse, Mustang, Tobiano, Red Roan Appaloosa], Equus caballus
1 Domestic Donkey [Sicilian], Equus asinus

Thick Orange Shelf Fungus on Walnut sp. ^

Sea Green Crustose Lichen on Limestone
Orange Crustose Lichen on Limestone ^
Black Crustose Lichen on Limestone ^ (New to Ranch)
White Crustose Lichen on Limestone ^ (New to Ranch)
Rose Crustose Lichen on Limestone ^ (New to Ranch)
Lemon Yellow Crustose Lichen on Limestone ^ (New to Ranch)
Wet Green Lichen on Limestone ^ (New to Ranch)
Sea Green Foliose Lichen on Plateau Live Oak
Orange Foliose Lichen on Plateau Live Oak

Green Algae sp.

Aquatic Moss sp.
Dryland Moss on Limestone
Dryland Moss on Bark

Thalloid Liverwort sp.

Tiny-leaved Fern sp.  (New to Ranch)
Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris
Wavyleaf Cloakfern, Notholaena sinuata ^
Alabama Lipfern, Cheilanthes alabamensis ^
Purple Cliffbrake, Pellaea atropurpurea ^
ZigZag Cliffbrake, Pellaea ovata ^
River Shieldfern, Thelypteris ovata var. lindheimeri
Mexican Curlygrass Fern, Anemia mexicana ^

# Ashe Juniper/Mountain Cedar, Juniperus ashei
Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum

Water Bentgrass, Agrostis semiverticillata (Polypogon viridis)
*# Bushybeard Bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus
*# King Ranch Bluestem, Bothriochloa ischaemum var. songarica *
*# Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula
*# Texas Grama, Bouteloua rigidiseta
*# Buffalograss, Buchloe dactyloides
*# Buffelgrass, Cenchrus ciliaris  (New to Ranch)
*# Coastal Bermudagrass, Cynodon dactylon *
*# Panicgrass sp., Dichanthelium (Panicum) sp.
*# English Perennial Rye, Lolium perenne (L. multiflorum) *
*# Shining Melic Grass, Melica nitens
Lindheimer Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri ^
Seep Muhly, Muhlenbergia reverchonii
*# Texas Wintergrass/Speargrass, Stipa (Nassella) leucotricha
Indiangrass, Sorghastrum nutans
Johnson Grass, Sorghum halepense *
Domestic Grass sp. **
White-top Sedge sp., Rhynchospora (Dichromena) sp. ^
*# Black Sedge, Schoenus nigricans
Jamiacan Sawgrass, Cladium jamaicense
*# Spring Rainlily, Cooperia pedunculata ^
* Drummond Wild Garlic, Allium drummondii ^
* Crowpoison, Nothoscordum bivalve (L.) Britt.
* cf. Hybrid Yucca, Yucca rupicola X Y. cf. constricta ^
* Twistleaf Yucca, Yucca rupicola ^
Spanish Dagger, Yucca treculeana
[Candlestick/Torrey Yucca, Yucca cf. torreyi ]
Soaptree Yucca, Yucca cf. elata ** (New to Ranch)
Century Plant, Agave americana ** (New to Ranch)
Havard Agave, Agave havardiana ** (New to Ranch)
* Manfreda sp., Manfreda sp. **
Texas Sotol, Dasylirion texanum
Devil’s Shoestring/Lindheimer’s Nolina, Nolina lindheimeriana
Greenbriar, Smilax bona-nox
Briar sp., Smilax sp.
* Blue-eyed Grass sp., Sisyrhinchium sp. ^
* Giant Helleborine/Chatterbox Orchid, Epipactis gigantea
Purple Heart Wandering Jew, Tradescantia (Setcreasea) pallida ** (New to Ranch)
* Erect Dayflower, Commelina erecta ^ (New to Ranch)
Ballmoss, Tillandsia recurvata
Banana, Musa X paradisiaca **
Red Canna, Canna glauca **
* Longleaf Pondweed, Potamogeton nodosus
* Yellow Pond Lily/Cow Lily, Nuphar lutea ^
cf. Carolina Fanwort, Cabomba caroliniana (New to Ranch)
Lombardy Black Poplar, Populas nigra var. italica **
* Pansy, Viola tricolor **
Spurge sp., Euphorbia sp. ^
* Roemer’s Spurge, Euphorbia roemeri
* Wild Poinsettia, Euphorbia (Poinsettia) cyathophora ^
Croton sp. I, Croton sp. ^
Croton sp. II, Croton sp.
* Lindheimer’s Copperleaf/Three-seeded Mercury, Acalypha lindheimeri
Common Noseburn, Tragia ramosa
Yellow Passionflower, Passiflora affinis
* Rock/Perennial Flax, Linum rupestre ^
* Stiffstem Flax, Linum rigidum var. berlandieri ^
Pecan, Carya illinoensis
Walnut sp., Juglans sp.
Texas Oak/Spanish Oak, Quercus buckleyi (Q. texana)
Plateau Live Oak, Quercus fusiformis
Lacey Oak/Blue Oak, Quercus laceyi (Q. glaucoides)
Plateau Chinkapin Oak, Quercus muhlenbergii var. brayi
Scalybark/Bastard/Shin Oak, Quercus sinuata var. breviloba
* Nipple Cactus, Coryphantha sulcata ^
White Lace Cactus, Echinocereus reichenbachii var. reichenbachii
Claret Cup Cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus ^
* Engelmann’s Prickly Pear, Opuntia lindheimeri ^
Spineless Prickly Pear, Opuntia ficus-indica ** (New to Ranch)
Cane Cholla, Opuntia imbricata ** (New to Ranch)
Common Four O’Clock, Mirabilis jalapa **
Sugarberry, Celtis laevigata
Netleaf Hackberry, Celtis reticulata
Texas Littleleaf Mulberry, Morus microphylla
Common Fig, Ficus carica. *
Cedar Elm, Ulmus crassifolia
Escarpment Black Cherry, Prunus serotina ssp. eximia
Plum sp., Prunus sp. **
Pear, Pyrus cf. communis **
Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus
Carolina Buckthorn, Rhamnus caroliniana
Green Squawbush, Condalia viridis 
False-nettle, Boehmeria cylindrica
* Cucumberweed, Parietaria pensylvanica (P. obtusa)
Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica * (also **)
* cf. Plateau/Stream Loosestrife, Lythrum ovalifolium
* Showy Pink Evening-Primrose, Oenothera speciosa ^
* Limestone Gaura, Gaura calcicola ^
* Red Bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus **
Texas Persimmon, Diospyros texana
Gum Bumelia, Sideroxylon (Bumelia) lanuginosa ^
* Drummond’s Phlox, Phlox drummondii ^
* Largeflower Brook-Primrose, Samolus cuneatus
* Creeping Yellow Sida, Sida abutifolia (S. filicaulis)
Indian Mallow, Abutilon incanum ^
* Standing Winecup, Callirhoe digitata ^
Carolina Basswood, Tilia americana var. caroliniana
* Texas Mock-Orange, Philadelphus texensis
* Stinging Stickleaf, Cevallia sinuata (New to Ranch)
Spicebush, Lindera benzoin
Mexican Buckeye, Ungnadia speciosa
Yellow (Red) Buckeye, Aesculus pavia var. flavescens
Rocky Mountain Bigtooth Maple, Acer grandidentatum var. grandidentatum
Prairie Flameleaf Sumac, Rhus lanceolata
Poison Ivy, Rhus toxicodendron var. toxicodendron
Poison Oak, Rhus toxicodendron var. eximia
Skunkbush/Aromatic Sumac, Rhus trilobata var. trilobata (R. aromatica var. flabelliformis)
Evergreen Sumac, Rhus virens
Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis ** (New to Ranch)
# Lindheimer’s/Mexican Silk-tassel, Garrya ovata var. lindheimeri
# Chinaberry, Melia azedarach **
# Wafer Ash/Hoptree, Ptelea trifoliolata
Wild Carrot sp.
* Sockbane, Torilis arvensis ^
* Texas Parsley, Polytaenia texana
* Prairie Bishop’s Weed, Bifora americana (New to Ranch)
Water Pennywort, Hydrocotyle verticillata
Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima *
Western Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis
Lindheimer’s Indigobush, Amorpha lindheimeri
Roemer’s Catclaw Acacia, Acacia roemeriana
Huisache, Acacia smallii (A.miniata, A. farnesiana)
# Texas Redbud, Cercis canadensis var. texensis
Fragrant Pink Mimosa, Mimosa borealis
Honey Mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa
# Texas Mountain-Laurel/Mescalbean, Sophora secundiflora
# Eve’s Necklace, Sophora affinis ^
Lindheimer Senna, Senna (Cassia) lindheimeriana
# Leavenworth Vetch, Vicia leavenworthii
Texas Bushclover, Lespedeza texana
* Least Bur-Clover, Medicago minima
Sensitive-Briar sp.
* Snout Pea sp.
* Scarlet Pea, Indigofera miniata ^ (New to Ranch)
Windflower, Anemone heterophylla ^
* Scarlet Leatherflower, Clematis texensis ^
* Yellow Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha ** (New to Ranch)
# Agarita, Berberis trifoliolata
# Nandina, Nandina domestica ** (New to Ranch)
* Yellow/Mexican Prickly Poppy, Argemone mexicana ^
* White Prickly Poppy, Argemone sp. (A. aurantiaca?) ^
Carolina Snailseed, Cocculus carolina
# Mountain Grape, Vitis monticola
Virginia Creeper, Parthenoscissus quinquefolia
* cf. Thicket Creeper, Parthenocissus cf. vitacea (New to Ranch)
Western Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
* Bluets sp., Hedyotis sp.
* Antelopehorns Milkweed, Asclepias asperula ^
Milkvine sp., Matelea sp.
Yellow Woodsorrel/Common Sour-Clover, Oxalis dillenii ^
Spearmint, Mentha spicata *
* Annual Pennyroyal, Hedeoma acinioides
* Mock Pennyroyal/Limoncillo, Hedeoma drummondii ^
* Prairie Brazoria, Brazoria scutellarioides ^ (New to Ranch)
* Mealy Sage, Salvia farinacea ^
* Purple Spires Sage, Salvia leucantha **
* Annual/Drummond’s Skullcap, Scutellaria drummondii ^
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis **
Chaste-Tree/Mediterranean Beach-Holly, Vitex agnus-castus * (also **)
* American Water-willow, Justicia americana (New to Ranch)
* Dakota Vervain, Verbena bipinnatifida ^
* Gray Vervain, Verbena canescens ^
* Texas Lantana, Lantana horrida ** (New to Ranch)
* Frogfruit, Phyla incisa  (New to Ranch)
* Common/Woolly Mullein, Verbascum thapsus *
Green Cloud Sage, Leucophyllum frutescens cult. **
Purple Sage, Leucophyllum frutescens ** (New to Ranch)
* Redbud, Menodora heterophylla
Netleaf Elbowbush, Forestiera reticulata
* Redseed Plantain, Plantago rhodosperma ^
* Paleseed Plantain, Plantago virginica
Snapdragon Vine, Maurandya antirhiniflora
Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis **
Catalpa, Catalpa bignonioides **
* Trumpet Creeper, Campsis radicans **
* Buffalo Bur, Solanum rostratum (New to Ranch)
* Western Horsenettle, Solanum dimidiatum
* Silverleaf Horsenettle, Solanum eleagnifolium
* Blue-Curls, Phacelia congesta ^
* White Evolvulus, Evolvulus sericeus
Lindheimer’s Morning Glory, Ipomoea lindheimeri ^ (New to Ranch)
* Pink Bindweed sp., Ipomoea sp. ^
* Water-Cress, Nasturtium officinale (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum)
* Wedgeleaf Draba, Draba cuneifolia
*# Plateau Bladderpod, Lesquerella recurvata
# Virginia Peppergrass, Lepidium virginicum (New to Ranch)
Balsam-Gourd/Snake-Apple, Ibervillea lindheimeri
Buffalo Gourd, Cucurbita foetidissima (New to Ranch)
* Venus’ Looking-Glass, Triodanis perfoliata
Rooseveltweed/Baccharis, Baccharis neglecta
* Rabbit-Tobacco sp., Evax sp.
Fragrant Cudweed, Gnaphalium obtusifolium
Shrubby Boneset/Thoroughwort, Eupatorium havanense
* Lindheimer’s Rock-Daisy, Perityle lindheimeri ^
* Straggler Daisy, Calyptocarpus vialis ^
* Pinchusion Daisy, Gaillardia suavis ^
* Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella ^
* Hairy Least-Daisy/Dwarf White Aster, Chaetopappa bellidifolia ^
* Spreading Least-Daisy, Chaetopappa effusa
* Lazy Daisy sp., Aphanostephus sp. ^
* Plains/Prairie Fleabane, Erigeron modestus ^
* Hairy Zexmenia, Wedelia (Zexmenia) hispida ^
Frostweed/Iceplant, Verbesina virginica
* Greenthread, Thelesperma filifolium ^
* Creekside Sneezeweed, Helenium elegans
Mexican Hat, Ratibida columnaris
Copper Canyon Daisy, Tagetes lemonii
* Parralena, Dyssodia pentachaeta ^
* Slenderleaf Hymenoxys, Hymenoxys linearifolia ^ (New to Ranch)
* Engelmann’s Daisy, Engelmannia pinnatifida ^
Streamside Goldenrod, Solidago sp. (S. juliae?)
* Woolly-White/Old Plainsman, Hymenopappus scabiosaeus ^
# Cocklebur sp., Xanthium sp.
* White Rock-Lettuce, Pinaropappus roseus ^
* Silverpuff/Nodding Lettuce, Chaptalia texana (C. nutans)
* Texas Dandelion, Pyrrhopappus multicaulis ^
* Sow-Thistle, Sonchus asper ^
* Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale * (New to Ranch)
* Texas Thistle, Cirsium texanum ^
* Bullthistle/Nodding Thistle, Carduus nutans *
* Slender Bristle-thistle, Carduus tenuiflorus
* # Malta/Yellow Star-thistle, Centaruea melitensis *
* Curly Lettuce, Lactuca sativa ** (New to Ranch)
Small Palmate Pseudo-aquatic Plant sp. (New to Ranch)

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

ENV: Some more pictures from Big Springs Ranch

I am doing biological surveys (since April 2006) at the Big Springs Ranch in Real County, Texas. It is home to the largest single spring at the headwaters of the Frio River. It is also home to several special critters and plants including Golden-cheeked Warblers, some of the westernmost breeding Louisiana Waterthrushes, an undescribed neotenic Salamander, Giant Helleborine Orchids, Black Sedge, Spreading Least-Daisy, Stream Loosestrife, and one of the world's rarest plants -- one of 16 known populations of Texas Mock-Orange. Here's a few pictures from surveys on 22 April and 29 April 2007.

Giant Helleborine or Chatterbox Orchid, Epipactis gigantea
29 April 2007
TX: Real Co., Big Springs Ranch N of Leakey

Indigobush sp., Amorpha sp.
29 April 2007
TX: Real Co., Big Springs Ranch N of Leakey

Texas Mock-Orange, Philadelphus texensis
29 April 2007
TX: Real Co., Big Springs Ranch N of Leakey

Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris
22 April 2007
TX: Real Co., Big Springs Ranch N of Leakey

Beetle on Slender-bristle Thistle, Cirsium tenuiflorus
22 April 2007
TX: Real Co., Big Springs Ranch N of Leakey

Red Satyr, Megisto rubricata
22 April 2007
TX: Real Co., Big Springs Ranch N of Leakey

Mexican Prickly-Poppy, Argemone mexicana
22 April 2007
TX: Real Co., Big Springs Ranch N of Leakey

29 April 2007
TX: Real Co., Big Springs Ranch N of Leakey

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ENV: Question Marks

A visit to Big Springs Ranch in Real County, Texas as part of a regular survey of flora and fauna turned up what was, for me anyway, a bounty of Question Marks. While hardly rare, a good day around these parts is finding one or two, but on April 22nd we had a total of 25, more than any other species we encountered. A complete list of the survey totals was posted for that day.

Click on the pictures to see an enlarged version and to see the punctuation mark that gives the bug its name.

Trying to get the jump on a Question Mark at
Big Springs Ranch that decided to pose on a prickly pear.

Photo by Tom Collins

On a heavily overcast day the bug is very dark, in fact
they often looked like black butterflies bouncing by.

But with a flash, they show a delicate patterning.

And of course, the big payoff comes when one deigns to spread its wings.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

COM: Some new stuff

A new edition of I and the Bird is shortly upon us. Here's the spiel from Mike Bergin:

Birders, as I've written before, are consumers of the fruits of evolution, celebrants of the processes of natural selection and genetic drift. It may be fair to say that birding has deeper ties to evolutionary theory than any other recreational activity in the world. Whether we realize it or not, those of us who track changes in avian taxonomy for year to year, who care about splits in scrub-jays or Empidonax flycatchers, are end-users of the very biological processes that inspire so much controversy and confusion.

Why speciation is controversial is beyond me, but how it can serve as the foundation of an endlessly fascinating preoccupation with different lifeforms has become much more understandable as my experience in bird watching increases. Let others explain why Lesser and Greater Scaup look so similar or how the Mallard's dominant genes threaten the integrity of related duck species. I'm just amazed every time I successfully distinguish between Anas platyrhynchos and A. rubripes or observe how the relationship between species and ecosystem is far more reciprocal than it might seem on the surface. Evolution … not "just a theory" anymore!

No, this little lecture on speciation wasn't triggered by a belated observance of Darwin Day. The last line about evolution, if you didn't recognize it, is the tagline for Greg Laden's eponymous blog. That Greg is a brilliant guy who "gets it" is readily apparent from his regular musings on topics like biology, global warming, or just about anything else that catches his fancy. That his insight extends to as esoteric an avocation as birding is indisputable based on his ingenious presentation of I and the Bird #48.

If you "get it" and "it" includes birding or wild birds, you should be sharing "it" with the global audience of I and the Bird, a savvy lot one and all. Send a link to your best recent post on the subject to me or our next discerning host, Dave (dave DOT bonta AT yahoo DOT com) of Via Negativa by May 15 for inclusion in the May 17 edition.

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COM: Catching up . . .

Seems like i've been nothing but on the road for the last two weeks. As usual an attempt will be made to do some catching up, but my past few attempts have been so flimsy that i'm not sure when i'll get to what.

So, for now, i'm posting some recent field reports dating back to April 22nd . . . back later.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

ENV: Circus of the Spineless Delayed

Our scheduled host for this month had a family death this week, and i'll be taking over. We'd like to wish Roger a peaceful week as he deals with his loss.

There was further delay because i've been leading field trips for the last five days, and have three more on the immediate horizon. So i'm asking for submissions to flow in for the next four days and i'll put #20 together this weekend. Sorry for the delay.

Submissions can be sent to me at hurricanetg(at) by Friday. The Circus will appear Sunday evening, May 6th at milkriverblog --

Thanks for your patience!

tony g

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