10 YEARS AGO/FROM JAN., 1979 SPOONBILL
"PLACES TO GO..As you will see when you read the
Clearing House and Field Notes, W. Harris County
or habitat similar to that area, will be productive.
With W. Harris County harboring Golden and Bald
Eagles, Ross' Geese among the thousands of Snows
and Blues, it isn't surprising an Oldsquaw popped up
on the Cypress Creek Christmas Count.
"Longspurs will be seen in that area until the
end of January, if past appearances hold true. Quoting from the January Spoonbill of 1977: '...look for
a loose flock that will rise, fly, wheel, and turn
with a flash of white bellies, then as they get close
to the ground, will drop all at once. Shorebirds,
and there are some out there, fly in tight flocks,
and never very high as they wheel over a wet field,
and blackbirds are much less disciplined in their
flocks, and, of course, never flash that white.'
The Varied Thrush hopefully will stay around
for awhile (the one seen in 1965 stayed two months).
So far, Sun Oil has not objected to birders entering
their property in search of this bird, who is staying
in a large Hackberry grove. Complete directions
may be gotten from David Dauphin or the editor."
THE CLEARING HOUSE: HISTORYgPURPOSE
The Clearing House is a record of birds that
occur on the Upper Texas Coast. Most of the
sightings are made by OG members, but other local
birders and some visitors also contribute. The name
"Clearing House" was chosen by Noel Pettingell, the
first designated editor of The Spoonbill, in July,
1953. He conceived of it as a section of the newsletter that collected, compiled and dispensed information on bird sightings by members. For some
time the birding diaries of Arlie McKay and Clinton
and Linda Snyder were published separately, as well
as field trip lists and spring censuses. The Clearing
House was not a complete list of birds seen, but
rather a chronological list of sightings of rare or
seasonal or just interesting birds seen, along with
the names of observers and locations of sightings.
It was not until 1960 that Ben Feltner, then
Spoonbill editor, revised the Clearing House "to
include every bird reported on the UTC in phylo-
genic order and is forever damned by subsequent
editors and typists," as the 30-year anniversary issue
of The Spoonbill put it in July, 1982. The Clearing
House did become a monster to type, with all those
numbers, abbreviations, parentheses and punctuation
marks to confuse the typist and make proofreading
difficult. The wonder is that there were still dedicated members every year to continue compiling it.
From this year on there was need for a
Clearing House Editor, though the husband and wife
teams who followed Ben Feltner did not necessarily
use the title. As the number of OG members grew
the number of sightings also increased.
Ron Braun, who took over as Clearing House
Editor in July 1984, was the first to put the data
on computer, with the help of his wife, Marcia.
They put in an incredible number of hours, like the
people before them.
The Brauns were a hard act to follow, and
before our present group of editors took over, Ted
Eubanks volunteered to be an interim editor. He
too slaved over the hot computer, trying to devise
a simpler program that would provide all the information desired and keep the data in a form, that
could be merged and later retrieved as desired. He
also added Waller County to the area covered. If
any of you observers have not been paying attention
to this addition, please send in Waller reports as
well as those from the traditional area.
Our present editors began compiling the Clearing House in May 1988. Andrew and Rene Franks
together, Peter Gottschling and Lynne Aldrich together, and Wally Gardner alone, are alternating
months and experimenting with the format. They
expect to settle on a form that a compiler can live
with and the members can profit from.
The usefulness of the Clearing House may not
be apparent to new members. However, they have
no trouble appreciating the value of a checklist.
If they think about it they will realize that there
could not be a checklist without the records that
have been compiled by the Clearing House over the
years. The OG has published six checklists, each
one longer than the one before, and will be publishing a new one in 1989. For a checklist to be accurate, there must be validated records of sightings
by good observers over a period of time.
Another use for the Clearing House has occurred
to many members who are increasing their life lists
past the -beginner's stage and have not happened on
some species they know occur. By looking over
past issues of The Spoonbill they find the months
when and the places where the species are regularly
seen, and then go out and find them. In case of
difficulty, the names of observers are printed so
that these intermediate birders can call the experienced members for help.
The scientific value of the Clearing House is
limited. It is not a census: coverage is not uniform, but rather focuses on hotspots; some people
fail to turn in complete lists; there are many more
observers than there are reports; there are hot
months during which only the die-hards go birding,
and at this time the trees are so leafy and brush
so thick that it is hard to see the birds that are
there. Nevertheless, the Clearing House does
reflect great changes in species' numbers—prairie
chickens, burrowing owls and swans way down and
blackbirds way up—and the difference in the species
that inhabit the areas where development has
occurred. But Clearing House supporters are not
just motivated by scientific interest, they also find
it extremely interesting and a challenge to their
skills. As new birders increase their skills, we hope
that they, too, will contribute their sightings.