In a world that is growing increasingly impersonal and dumber by the day, thanks to the ease of technology, people relying on said technology and the loss of something so pure and simple as a conversation between people and a hand written letter, it has come down to this.
I say leave this 'sport' to the traditional way, learning from experience and research. Technology has no place here. Can you see it now. zebra stripped referees calling for instant replays of who spotted what bird first. Here is a bird for you:
Birding or bird watching is on the verge of becoming an 'extreme sports level' whatever that is. Can you imagine you and your friends gathering around the television, computer or tablet to watch a riveting, fast action paced couple of hours birding? What is next, the NBL or National Bird League?
From our local rock chuck wrapper
At birders’ world series, controversy over tech
By Corey Kilgannon and Emily S. Rueb / New York Times News Service
Pete Dunne and Benjamin Van Doren are devout birders who share a passion for identifying rare species, recording their sightings and competing in birding events known as Big Days.
But as they prepared for the biggest Big Day of all, today’s World Series of Birding in New Jersey, their technological approaches could hardly be more disparate.
Van Doren, 20, a sophomore at Cornell, has a $2,500 camera setup and an iPhone stocked with digital field guides, apps that play recordings of bird songs and help him, with GPS, home in on where he might find certain species.
Dunne, 62, has been preparing a bit differently. He refuses to bring a camera and keeps his cellphone turned off. He eschews birding apps and digital libraries in favor of the handwritten journal he has kept since he was 7. The proliferation of digital photography and other technology alters the whole dynamic of birding, he said, “getting away from the art of field identification.”
It was all leading to a regrettable mindset, he added, of “Shoot first and identify later.”
Not long after professional baseball came around to instant replay, the booming world of competitive birding, once seen as a refuge from the clatter of the modern world, is debating how much it should embrace technology. It is as close as birding, long proud of its honor system, has come to an identity crisis, particularly over the issue of whether photography should be required to prove a spotting. In debates among birders, the encroachment of smartphones and digital cameras has become inseparable from another touchy issue, the matter of questionable sightings, known as stringing.
The world series is held every May throughout New Jersey, a major migration stop for birds heading north, and the event routinely attracts roughly 1,000 of the world’s top birders, who will race around the state from midnight to midnight, often in four-member teams, trying to identify as many species as they can. Their reward will be bragging rights and the Urner-Stone Cup, which resembles a miniature version of hockey’s Stanley Cup, although there are no cash prizes.
The competition, which also raises money for conservation, does not require photo evidence, and scoring remains on the honor system, although contestants who claim to have seen or heard rare birds can expect to be questioned by other teams about details. The rules do not allow the use of digital gadgets in the spotting or hearing of birds. Recorded calls cannot be played in the open, where they could inadvertently — or intentionally — induce birds to respond, for example. But birders are permitted to refresh themselves — in their cars, only — with recorded bird calls.
The pro-tech camp argues that it is silly to prohibit tools that educate birders, make birding more welcoming for novices.
“It is bringing a new breath of air into the competitions,” said Scott Whittle, a commercial photographer from Cape May, N.J., who has a $10,000 photo setup. He is helping develop an app called Bird Genie that recognizes and identifies bird calls in the field.
He said he began birding six years ago and photographed his sightings “because I knew I wasn’t a good enough birder for people to trust me.”
The verification of sightings and the fight against stringing — arguable sightings by inexperienced, overeager or simply cheating birders — are two of birding’s most pressing issues and form the main argument for the use of photos.
Birding’s popularity, fueled in part by the recent films, “The Big Year” and “A Birder’s Guide to Everything,” is approaching an extreme-sport level, with adrenaline-pumped teams putting in sleepless days.
The American Birding Association has begun discussions to revise portions of its code of ethics, said Jeffrey Gordon, the association’s president. The code serves as a guideline for birders, although competition organizers are free to make their own rules. Gordon said that what little there was in the code regarding technology — there is a mention, for example, of curbing the use of tape recorders — has likely gone unchanged since being established a decade ago, “before people were walking around with libraries of bird songs in their pocket.”
While the honor system remains paramount, Gordon said, photographs, provided they have not been altered, can offer “a higher standard of evidence,” especially for rare sightings, and for newer birders who have yet to establish reputations.
“I hear young birders joking around saying, ‘Photos or it didn’t happen,” he said. “The expectation is that if you report something rare, you’re going to need a photograph. And I only see that increasing.”
The association created a new category of competition: Photo Big Days. Last month, Whittle and Tom Stephenson, a Brooklyn-based birder, organized a Photo Big Day in Texas and competed as well, photographing 209 birds in 24 hours, which the birding association has recognized as a record for North America.
Even purists like Dunne, a New Jersey Audubon Society official who founded the world series, said any tool that made birding more accessible was welcome. But introducing them to competitions goes against the trust implicit in birding, the purists said, and turns what should be a contest of devotion and skill into a free-for-all where tech wizardry and expensive cameras become the de facto entry requirements.
Teams in the world series recruit members who can identify bird calls and can scout where targeted species are likely to be seen. To prepare for the event, Van Doren’s Cornell team has spent a week driving around New Jersey using apps to log where specific birds have been spotted. They are not allowed to use apps to acquire new information during the event, but they can use them to refer to previously gathered information.
Van Doren acknowledged that technology should have its limits. The day will come, he predicted, when binoculars themselves will be able to identify birds. “That would be lame from a birding perspective,” he said, “because it would take the skill out of it.”
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