I authored a research paper that is published in the latest issue of the Florida Field Naturalist, which is the journal published by the Florida Ornithological Society four times per year. Attached to this post is a .pdf copy of that article, and if you aren’t a member of the FOS, I’d encourage you to consider it. For a nominal fee of $25 per year, you get a physical copy of the journal each quarter in addition to supporting the FOS. Here, though, you get this particular article for free. 🙂
I’ve been asked a few times “why did you select this species” and “what interested you about this particular topic”? I was drawn to Eiders as a research topic for many reasons, one of which is because of the impression finding my first one in Duval County made on me back in 2011. I can still vividly recall finding two of them in the St. Johns River just off of Huguenot Park on the morning of 24 January 2011; it was the first observation of the species in Duval County since 1971 – just before I was even born! At the time, that was a huge deal – to find and add a species to the old county list that hasn’t been seen in 40 years. Below is a very crappy image of the two ducks that morning, as I digiscoped them with a rather suspect Samsung point and shoot camera and my scope.
In the years following 2011, the species became a nearly annual sighting, which provoked a question – “why”? One day I pondered that and decided to start looking for other observations along the Atlantic Coast, and was intrigued how the increased occurrence of Eiders in Florida might relate to climate change or some other factor.
Additionally, Eiders are just interesting birds (ducks) to observe. They’re relatively easy to see – they’re quite large, usually fairly static, and stay above the surface for long periods of time…they even walk up on land where you can see them even better. As I started researching them I found a lot of literature; in fact, they’re the mostly widely studied sea duck in North America. I quickly noticed some noted behavioral consistencies – and inconsistencies – between eiders in their normal range versus what has been noted in Florida waters, and thus the scope of my research took shape.
While I am published in the Florida Field Naturalist every quarter as the Field Observations Report compiler, this was an interesting new experience for me. When I started the paper, I was actually in the midst of also beginning my Master’s thesis on healthcare data archival and electronic medical record conversions, and had to set the Eider paper aside for about 6 months. I was able to pick it back up and made some progress, enough to produce a draft of enough quality for peer review. The fantastic editor of the FFN put me in contact with two Eider experts who were both gracious enough to review and provide feedback and insights. The editor put some final polishing touches on it, and you have the article linked above at the beginning of this post.
Another thing I learned from the experience is how helpful it is to have access to field notes via eBird or otherwise. Most birders, myself often included, don’t spend enough time documenting what they see in detail – particularly for rare or vagrant species. Birding culture is fueled by eBird and the concept of “listing”, which eBird stresses as part of their marketing appeal to birders with their “Top 100” and other nonsense. Thus, many people recording observations for rare birds are more interested in “tick and go” than they are actually watching the bird or questioning why the bird is there. While performing deliberate observation and note taking isn’t for everyone, I would encourage all of us to slow down and take some time to consider adding to future body of knowledge.