Monday, September 26, 2016

Collective Intelligence

My Reference Books
When I post photos from my travels I do my very best to identify what I've seen for my website and blog. It's a bit easier when I'm photographing or posting from home because I can just turn to my arsenal of Florida and Georgia Field Guides and helpful local experts and websites. But when I'm traveling it gets a bit more complicated. It's not really practical to carry field guides from around the world in my suitcase (though I do pick them up along the way from time to time). There are good apps, and I use them when I can, but I don't always have cell coverage (or an appropriate app). But what I do have, most of the time, is access to the internet, maybe from the hotel or the airport or somewhere along the way. The trick is finding good sources of info. I ask locals when I can. But often, I'm on my own, or the people around me don't know, or I don't speak the language well enough to ask or understand. So I often turn to Google and Wikipedia, and have been fairly successful. With birds, I reinforce the search by turning to e-Bird to see what birds have been reported at that location or nearby. When I'm in South America, I also look at the Neotropical Bird section of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site. (I wish that the birds on an E-bird list had links to photos so I could easily look to see if the bird is what I'm looking for, and the Neotropical Bird site is a little clunky to navigate between species to identify and compare, but they're still both very useful.) I've had pretty good luck just Googling the name of the bird, or "Birds of ___" and checking Wikipedia or looking at photos. When we went to Iguazu Falls a few years ago I took hundreds of photos of butterflies that I'd never seen before. I found several helpful websites for identifying them, but sometimes I had to resort to just describing the butterfly and location and see what came up in the Google "images" section. For flowers, I'll often search for "wildflowers of (insert town/country/region)" and a local field guide may pop up. When I'm in a Botanical Garden, I take care to photograph the interpretive signs and ID tags to look at later. Some thoughtful locations, such as the bird refuge in El Calafate, Argentina, have signs with pictures of wildlife and plants that you may see along the way. I very thankful for these! And I always grab trail literature when it looks helpful. 

Helpful Sign in El Calafate, Argentina

Local Field Guides 

So you can see that a lot of work goes into this photography/blog business. Besides taking the photo and editing it, I also have to get the information right. Whew! It's probably not truly necessary, but I'm a bit obsessive about putting things in categories. Most readers or viewers don't really care what plant family the flower comes from, or whether the bird is a white phase or the striated version. But I like to know these things, so I seek out the information. And occasionally people will find one of my photos online and ask use it for a publication or illustration, and I want to be as helpful and accurate as I can. I report my own bird sightings to e-Bird and have been contacted once or twice when I reported something that was too rare to be true. After some investigation, the investigator and I determined that I had misidentified my bird, and I changed the report. Friends have contacted me, too, and let me know that I have misidentified a snake or turtle or flower and I really appreciate the help. I'm no expert and I love to learn. So if you see something I should change, let me know! I really do want to know. I understand that there are apps now where you can just submit a photo and have it identified for you, and I may look into it someday, but I admit that I enjoy the chase.

Butterfly from Iguazu Falls. Needs ID still!

This is all a long introduction to the tough time I had figuring out what I had seen while traveling in Ecuador. My bird, plant and insect knowledge in Florida and now Georgia came from years of following experts around. In Ecuador, I did much of my exploring on my own and much of it was new. But I searched and scoured the internet and did my best. In hindsight I realize that I probably should have just purchased a field guide to the birds of Ecuador. I may still do it, especially if we ever return, and I hope we will. Ecuador is an amazing country, with the most biodiversity per square kilometer of any other nation on earth. According to Wikipedia, there are 1600 species of birds, 4000 species of butterflies, and 16,000 species of plants. Really, it's an incredible place.

Hummingbird in Papallacta. Still Needs ID!
I spent an afternoon in a botanical garden on a hilltop in Yachay, a few hours north of Quito, while my husband met with university administrators. I had a great time and saw some cool birds and plants. Luckily for me, I was in a botanical garden and many of the plants had signs. The birds gave me a little more trouble. Vermillion Flycatchers were easy, and I was really excited when they started hopping out of the bushes, but actually grew tired of them after a while because they were so plentiful! (Such problems I have!) I was really hoping to see some fancy hummingbirds like the ones in Quito. I saw several not-quite-so-fancy hummingbirds, but they were always too far away to get a good ID photo. But back at the hotel, using my combination e-Bird hotspot report/Wikipedia technique, I was able to identify a Yellow-faced Grassquit that was photographed from far away and in the bushes. The American Kestrel was easy because I knew them from home. They are very plentiful in Ecuador.

One of Many Vermillion Flycatchers

Hummingbird, No ID Yet 
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Handy Signs at the Botanical Garden
American Kestrel and Prey

A week later, when our family went to the cloud forest in Papallacta, and again in Otavalo, I finally saw some fancy hummingbirds. I bought a small guide that was somewhat helpful for Papallacta, but 
e-Bird was the best resource. Friends on Facebook and the guide who took my family on a day hike helped identify some of the plants and flowers.

Cinereous Conebill

Black Crested Warbler

Pale-naped Brush Finch

Shining Sunbeam Hummingbird

Spectacled Whitestart

Sword-billed Hummingbird
(This one made me very happy! What a bill!)

Tawny Antpitta
(I heard this bird a long time before I was able to find it, and it took e-Bird to make an ID.)

Andean Gull
Turquoise Jay and Tasty Bundle

Tree Lungwort

Lepanthes Orchid
(I was so focused on the pretty heart-shaped buds that I missed the tiny orchid flower in the background!)

Scarlet Angel's Trumpet
(The Sword-billed Hummingbird uses its extra long bill on this flower!)
Next we spent a few days at a lakeside resort north of Quito, near Otavalo and it seemed like there were many species of hummingbirds in the gardens there, but later, after looking more carefully, I realized that I had seen only 3 or 4, but that they varied from male to female, and they moved around a lot! There is a lot of zipping in the hummingbird world. The Black-tailed Trainbearer hummingbird that I had tried to catch in Quito was more cooperative this time. 

Black-tailed Trainbearer (m)

Black-tailed Trainbearer (f)

Green Violetear Hummingbird

Not Sure. Emerald? Violetear?

Western Emerald Hummingbird?

A bigger challenge came when we visited a bird reserve in Mindo, a few days later. But that, my friends, is another blog post!


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