On Birding and Facebook

A Fox sparrow. Source

It started with a pair of dark brown birds, scratching at the dirt at the base of a blackberry bush.

The light was low, as it was just shy of 8 in the morning. I was out birding at one of my usual haunts before work: an urban wetland bisected by a walking and biking bath about 5 minutes from my office.

The birding so far was pretty good. Fall has just fallen in my neck of the woods, which means a larger variety of duck species visiting wetlands than can usually be seen in summer. I counted four different species for the morning, which is not too bad for a 30-minute trip.

As I was turning to head back to my car, the slightest motion caught my eye. I looked to my left and spotted two sparrows scratching at the ground at the base of a blackberry bush. Immediately, the darkness of their brown feathers stuck out to me. Darker than the ubiquitous song sparrow for sure, with more pronounced white streaks across their breasts.

I’m a relatively novice birder, but with a respectable (and growing) bank of knowledge. Still, sparrows can be tricky. Even experienced birders I know have gotten tripped up on identifying one species compared to another. I suspected it to be a fox sparrow, which vary in plumage depending on where you are in the U.S. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we have the darker “sooty” variety.

With this hypothesis not yet confirmed, though, I turned to the bird ID app on my smartphone. Yep: more support for the little bird hopping around 10 feet from me being a fox sparrow. But I wanted to be sure.

Here’s where the beauty of technology and near-constant inter-connectedness comes in. I took a photo with my phone’s a camera and uploaded it to birding Facebook page for my area.

“This is a fox sparrow, right?” I asked the group.

Within 10 minutes, someone had replied confirming my question. A fox sparrow it was. Within 30 minutes total, I was able to snap a photo of a semi-unknown bird and ask a question of a pool of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of birders more seasoned than I. All while out in the field, away from a traditional computer.

How amazing is that? Many have made arguments for the perils of this kind of perhaps over-connectedness and reliance on technology. But for birders, these leaps forward have been a boon. We live in a great time to be a birder.

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