New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

People at NYSOA:  Bob Spahn                      Posted 4/4/17

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Bob SpahnBob Spahn has been a NYSOA volunteer for over 40 years, serving as a director for 7 years and on various committees throughout his time with the organization. Bob has consistently been a key leader in shaping and maintaining NYSOA's role in documenting the ornithology of New York State. He was honored with NYSOA's Gordon M. Meade Distinguished Service Award in 2000.


How long have you been a NYSOA member?
“I joined NYSOA, then the Federation of NY State Bird Clubs, in 1974 or ‘75 and have been a member since.”


What positions have you held in the organization?
“Through this time, I have been a Director several times and have served on several committees, including Bylaws and NYSOA/eBird interface. I have also long been associated with our Kingbird publication as the Region 2 Regional Editor, Season’s Highlights Editor, and Regional Reports Editor. Records have been my primary interest in the organization for over 40 years. During this period I was also the Region 2 Regional Coordinator for both of the NYS Breeding Bird Atlas Projects – 1980-85 and 2000-05.”


What is it about NYSOA that keeps you involved?
“Interest in birds and bird records and helping with an organization that is immersed in this in New York. My interests in birding include the games aspect, with many forms of listing, Big Days (>50), and the Montezuma Muck Race (20 years). With a science background, I have worked on various bird-related studies, including: Breeding Bird Surveys (51, with 40 years doing one route), Breeding Bird Atlases (>150 Blocks in two each NY, MI, and WI BBA Projects), Christmas Bird Counts (90+), NY State Waterfowl Counts, forest bird surveys in northern MI and WI, etc.”

How long have you been the Region 2 Reports Editor for The Kingbird?
“I was first the Region 2 Regional Editor from mid-1977 to 1981, an occasional fill-in over the next 30 years, and back to full time since mid-2011. Looking, hoping for a volunteer to take over in the near future! During this period, I was also Season’s Highlights Editor from 1981 to early 1998 and occasionally after and Regional reports editor from 1981, when it was part of the Season’s Highlights job, to present. I enjoy the records work, but it is probably not good to have one person doing any such job for too long. It becomes too easy for a new leader to just ask “Will you stay on?”, and too soon there is no one else with experience wanting to take the job. Volunteers welcome any time!! Will pass along anything considered of use to a new person.”


How many quarterly reports have you written?
“Over 45 Region 2 reports and more than 70 Season’s Highlights. Also edited over 1000 regional reports over the years.”


What sources do you use for reporting?
“In Region 2, we have had a long tradition of local Rochester bird clubs tracking records reviewed monthly by local records committees, so initially these summaries were the main basis for the reports supplemented with other summaries, such as banding operations, CBC’s, and other surveys, and personal communications and commentary from local observers. More recently we have added local listserv reports and then eBird data, with eBird now approaching 90% of the data input and commentary, unfortunately, greatly lacking. While I continually cite and promote eBird as the best tool and site for data input and archive, I am strongly of the opinion that the Regional Reports form an important function of sifting through the mass of data and putting it into some historical and seasonal perspective for local birders.”


How long does it take you to write a quarterly Region 2 Report?
“This is a difficult question to treat simply. In addition to the Kingbird report, I have long been compiling local data for clubs to publish in their newsletters as Noteworthy Records. So much of the work of assembling the information goes on each month. On a monthly basis, sorting through the eBird records is now the most time consuming, with about 15,000 to as many as 70,000 (May) lines of data to look at. Sorting to remove data from other regions takes 4-8 hours depending on month during which I get a first cut at noting potentially noteworthy records. Add an hour to pull these to a separate file. Since I don’t really type well, typing up the noteworthy table merging information from all the sources takes another 4-6 hours. Finally, adding field notes and an alphabetical observer list takes another 1-2 hours. In the past, with a local records review committee functioning, one evening a month a group of 5-6 local birders would gather to look at the potentially noteworthy records and choose those to retain or delete or to add others. Another function of the gathering was to just sit around a table and kick around thoughts on the birding scene from the month, which could then be incorporated in the notes and finally the regional reports. The records committees have, again unfortunately, mostly not functioned for some time; need resurrection. The final regional report writing takes about 4-5 hours to write the prose summary and then 6-8 hours for me to type, much of that merging the noteworthy species data from the three months of the season.”


How long have you been birding?
“Something on the order of 65 years, depending on how you define “birding.” I began an interest in birds around our backyard feeders in eastern Iowa at about age 7 years and have an autographed Peterson guide going back to then. I have been keeping lists and some notes going back to the early 1950’s. Golf took over as a central activity for many years, but birds were always there, even as we golfed, and especially in the cold Midwestern winters. My parents even saved a paper I wrote for grade school on the use of birds for an advantage in match play golf. Shortly after moving to Rochester in 1966, I encountered local birders and became involved with local clubs and then the FNYSBC in the ‘70’s. After marriage and family, the expense and time required for golf was not acceptable, so birding became my primary “hobby.” While working, I always took at least binoculars and a field guide on business trips and used free time to do some birding almost anywhere. When asked how often do you “go birding,” it is a question that makes little sense to me. If I am awake and can see or hear the outdoors, I’m open to birding input.”


Did you have a particular experience that hooked you on birding?
“No, I was just always interested in things outdoors and curious to the point of wanting to put names on the things encountered. I am a firm believer in the thought that if you cannot put a name on something it is essentially not “visible” to you. Your brain simply filters out most of what you don’t know or don’t have a name for.”


What is your favorite place to go birding in NYS?
“Living in upstate NY, birding areas around Rochester are the day-to-day favorites, with Braddock Bay, Hamlin Beach SP, the Montezuma NWR, and several sites in the hills south of Rochester among them. Farther afield, the Adirondacks; reminiscent of N. Wisconsin.”


Favorite species?
“A question that really never makes sense to me. I enjoy birds and birding generally, whenever and wherever. Some of the owls are special, but so too the warblers, then several of the boreal specialties, etc.”


Is anyone else in your family a birder as a result of your interest?
“My wife, Sue, had an interest when we met that has greatly increased. We have traveled all over the country birding, mostly on our own but at times with groups when logistics suggested that made sense. Both daughters accompanied us on many trips with birds always a part. Older daughter Cathy has worked in the wildlife field and younger daughter Kristin has retained some interest, though family and horses are higher priorities.”


What do you do for a living?
“Now retired. Formerly worked in process development at Kodak for over 35 years; Applied Physics for (expensive), grown-up tinker toys.”

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