Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Birding Obsession

Join birding expert Kent McFarland of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, and media savvy birder, James Currie, host of Birding Adventures TV, for a Digital Bird Walk on Saturday, June 23, part of the 2012 Woodstock Digital Media Festival.

“Once you get involved, birding can become an obsession,” McFarland says. His began after college, during a stint in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, where the bright birds attracted his attention. After a few months—and the purchase of a cheap pair of binoculars and a bird guide—McFarland was a fanatic.

Twenty years later, he is still studying birds through the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE), an independent research group dedicated to the understanding and conservation of wildlife. VCE biologists also involve amateur “citizen scientists” in their efforts to inform scientists, policy makers and the public about sound conservation goals and practices.

All of which make Kent McFarland a natural to lead the Digital Bird Walk on June 23rd. He expects to be able to easily spot 30 different species, but says that if the walk were earlier in spring and just before sunrise, participants easily could expect to hear 60 different species of birds.

“Once you get involved, birding can become an obsession.”  
Kent McFarland, Vermont Center for Ecostudies 

“Proficient birders do a lot by ear,” McFarland explains. Identifying bird songs is one of the areas where apps like Audubon Birds add to the experience, he adds. McFarland often will use an app when guiding because “showing a picture of the bird and playing its song helps people to be able to hear it, and then possibly see it, when they’re in the field.”

A Passion for Birding Data

McFarland’s passion for birding and data feeds his contributions to eBird, a giant database of bird observations from recreational and professional bird watchers. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird’s goal is to maximize the collection and use of bird observations to create a huge biodiversity data resource for educators, land managers, ornithologists and conservation biologists. 

Real-time data from eBird also can be accessed in the field by the Audubon Birds app, allowing users to find out what birds others have seen from anywhere they are standing.

In March 2012 alone, participants reported more than 3.1 million bird observations across North America to eBird, which collects the data through portals managed by local partner conservation organizations. The first localized portal was in Vermont, in large part due to McFarland’s urging, and today he still monitors the quality of data entered into eBird by Vermonters.

For McFarland, all the time and effort spent in the field and with the data is worth it. “Taking people’s fun and using it for conservation is priceless,” he says.

Digital Bird Walk, Saturday, June 23 at 8:00 AM

Join Kent McFarland and James Currie on a Digital Bird Walk with the Audubon Bird app from Green Mountain Digital. The walk leaves at 8:00 AM on Saturday, June 23, from the overflow parking lot on River Road across from Billings Farm and Museum. Interested participants can download the Audubon Birds app prior to the walk at However, everyone is encouraged to attend the Digital Bird Walk, even without the app or a device, to learn about birds and new digital technology.


  1. So how will it work for those of us participating digitally? I already have Audubon Birds ap.

    1. @SRM This will be a real life bird walk and we will be using the app to record our experiences digitally. This will be a free event at the Woodstock Digital Media Festival. Thanks! Justine @ GMD/AudubonGuides