The story below reminds us all why we need to be ever so grateful to folks
like the March's, the Eddleman's, and so many others who do allow birders to
come visit their homes to observe the rarities at their feeders and in
their yards. I mean after all, who could blame someone who might decline
such an "opportunity!"

My thanks to those who have hosted us so graciously!
Susan Hazelwood
Columbia, Boone County, Missouri
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----- Original Message -----
From: Dan Thalmann <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, February 05, 2004 7:14 PM
Subject: Newspaper editorial on Washington County Brambling

The following is a column written by Tom Parker, who is also on this list,
which I included in this week's issue of the Washington County News. I
though Kansas birders would find it entertaining.
--Dan Thalmann


When Warren Buss looked out the window of his farm near Linn and saw the
Brambling, he did what any self-respecting birder would do: he videotaped
From that point on, Warren's actions diverged from just about anybody else
who might have found himself in the same situation.
Rather than rush to hop on the Internet and post a report on the Kansas
Ornithological Society's listserv, which would instantly notify every birder
in the state and some out of the state, he put his camcorder away and went
back to doing what he had been. For what Warren suspected was that once news
of the sighting leaked out, the world would descend on his farm and
completely turn his life topsy-turvy. Which is exactly what he didn't want.
One doesn't just announce a Brambling in one's yard without setting into
motion a veritable firestorm. Like in "The Return of the King" when Frodo,
balancing precariously on the edge of a crevice in Mt. Doom,
slips on the ring and the eye of Sauron and the Ringwraiths suddenly fasten
upon him, so, too, would the eyes of birders take sudden and intense notice
of Warren Buss in Linn.
He had ample reason to worry. People fortunate enough to find rare birds in
their yards have discovered, sometimes to their chagrin, the powerful
attraction such a bird embodies. Birders appear from surrounding counties,
sometimes even from other states, eager to add another bird to their lists
or, occasionally, simply to look at a species they would otherwise have to
go clear around the world to see.
A Brambling, for the uninitiated, is a bird of European origins. It
resembles nothing at all in Kansas avifauna except perhaps a towhee, and
then only if seen briefly. The bird occasionally wanders across the Big
Pond, as the Brits say, and appears unheralded upon our native soil. It's
never before been seen in Washington County nor, for that matter, anywhere
in the state of Kansas.
In birder's jargon, it's a first state record. The only way you can improve
on finding such a bird is if it's found in your yard.
That fills all the lists a birder can dream up.
So Warren went back to working, but he kept an eye out for the Brambling.
Over the next several weeks it was seen several times, always only for a few
seconds. He didn't report it or even mention it to his birding friend, Dan
Thalmann. (Nor did he mention it to me, for which I
continually rebuke him whenever we meet.)
It was probably for the best that he kept the bird to himself. Several times
in my past I have been involved in the opening chapters of the feeding
frenzy that results from rare birds, and in every instance the ensuing
madness was awesome to behold.
When Colorado's first Inca Dove appeared in a backyard in Lafayette, the
word was disseminated within minutes. Prominent birders were notified by
phone, and they in turn notified others before fleeing to the scene.
Duane Nelson, a member of the Colorado Records Committee and a good friend
of mine, called to say he would pick me up in thirty minutes.
Armed with binoculars and cameras with long telephoto lenses, we were at the
house within an hour of the dove's appearance. Cars already lined the street
and more were flooding in. The dove perched on the back fence, seemingly
unconcerned at the mob filling the house and spilling out into the yard, all
jostling for a better look. The homeowner's patience was stretched, flowers
trampled, shrubs crushed.
Ditto when an Ovenbird showed up at a feeder in Wheatridge. I became part of
the problem when I accidentally ran over a garbage bag placed next to the
curb. Come to think of, everything about that bird went bad, including its
fate. Shortly after I laid binoculars on the bird, it was eaten by a cat.
The homeowner, in a fit of justifiable rage, spent the next several weeks
eradicating felines from the neighborhood.
And then it was our turn. When I reported a Common Redpoll at our feeder,
the phone started ringing almost immediately.
People wanted to know if the redpoll was there right then, how often it was
showing up, when was the best time to see it.
Others arrived unannounced, or peered over the back fence at odd times. The
kitchen was crowded with people who didn't want to leave when the bird
failed to show. The novelty of the experience wore off fast. What made it
doubly bad was that the redpoll was never seen again. Thankfully I had taken
a few photographs to prove its existence.
And that's the second part of seeing a rare bird: proving it.
It's the duty of the state records committee to assume you were
hallucinating when you saw the bird. They want documentation and, if
possible, photographic evidence. After it's presented to them, they convene
and weigh the merits of your find. If they accept the sighting, they publish
it in an annual review, complete with your name and location. If they feel
you were mistaken in the bird's identification, they publish the reason why,
mercifully leaving out your name.
But Warren wasn't worried about the records committee. The Brambling was his
alone, and that's the way it would stay.
Until he leaked it to Dan.
It took Dan some cajoling to get a copy of the tape, and more to get him to
submit it. Since the bird was long gone, there would be no crowds to contend
with, no hectoring phone calls. He impressed upon him the importance of
documenting a first state record, especially one in
Washington County.
Two years after the Brambling appeared in his yard, the records committee
published its annual report. There, on page 41, was an acceptance of the
sighting. "Fringilla montfringilla, one adult male, molting into alternate
plumage," it said. "First state record, added to
the state checklist."
All is back to normal now. Warren still watches out his window, more
conscious of what might drop in for a handful of seeds.
His birding friends have almost stopped badgering him. And they've taken the
lesson to heart: you never know what's going to show up, so keep an eye out
and a camera ready.
This week, Dan and I called Warren to congratulate him on the record. We
also reminded him that if he ever does it again, we'll kill him.

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