In the past few years, photography has become increasingly more prevalent in the birding community. Digital cameras continue to get cheaper, better, and easier to use;and as a professional photographer and self-professed "photobirder", I am heartened to see an increase in birders taking advantage of these new tools. Whereas I might have had only one or two people with cameras on a birding walk in the past, now I might see the majority of people in a group with cameras, and often very sophisticated ones. The question is, what do we do with all those photos? How can we focus that energy (if you'll pardon the pun), and bring it up a level?
Competition! It's a tried and true way to get people motivated, and this year a group of us are going to do some serious motivating. Around April 21st (the date is a little flexible to account for weather and migration), four of us are going to do a 24-hour Photo Big Day in Texas. Like a traditional Big Day, we're out to get as many species of birds as we can in 24 hours, but with the extra burden of photographing them all. Many of you may know that a team from Cornell set the US Big Day record in Texas last April with 296 species seen. We don't expect to get that many, but we do hope to set a US record for birds photographed. In the process, we also want to design a set of rules so that in the future, anyone can do a Big Photo Day, whether it's for a national record or just a record for their backyard.
Photography adds a dimension of fun to birding that's hard to beat...not only do you have to find the birds, but there's also the challenge of getting that photograph. In a Photo Big Day, that image is everything...if you can't ID the bird from the picture, it doesn't count! Knowing a wide range of ID points for the birds can help you add species to your list. For example, Fish Crow and American Crow have slightly different lengths of flight feathers, and can be separated visually if you have a shot of the open wing. So that means if we see a crow, that flight shot is key!
Our team will consist of myself and my Warbler Guide co-author Tom Stephenson; expert Cape May birder and photographer Sam Galick; and Cameron Cox, co-author of the Peterson Guide to Seawatching. Also on the team will be birder extraordinare Tom Johnson, who will be helping scout our route, but won't be there for the actual day. We're also getting a lot of support from NYC Audubon, who is setting up a site for organizations to fund-raise and host their own Big Photo Day events; Zeiss, who has generously donated scopes and digiscoping gear that we'll be using throughout the day; Princeton University Press (publishers of The Warbler Guide and many other excellent titles); and of course the ABA, who will be live-blogging and tweeting the event, as well as publishing an article on our Big Day in the Birder’s Guide to Listing and Taxonomy.
Another great thing the ABA is doing is helping to set up a site for people to share their own Photo Big Days. Anyone can join and share their personal Big Days for any area, from a backyard, to a county, state or even the whole country. This is an exciting way to share experiences, argue over ID points, and generally get better at birding and bird photography, and we're thrilled that the ABA is joining us in promoting this new event!