Sunday, April 08, 2007

Smackdown--Geoff Hill Trashes Long-time Chicago Birder!!!

We have been on the road so much lately that we have a large backlog of potential topics. This has also given us a lot of free reading time that we normally wouldn't have, and we used our flight this morning as an opportunity to finish reading Geoff Hill's recent IBWO book.

It is sort of an odd book. Mildly entertaining and refreshingly honest/straightforward, but we had two overall problems with the book. First, it is already outdated, and pretty much was so by the date it was printed. The publisher really screwed up on this point. I don't know why the book stops just before the big announcement by the Auburn team was made; the stuff that came afterwards, including the reaction to Auburn's announcement, would have been the most interesting part of the book. But from the publisher's standpoint, if you're going to cut off the narrative at that point, then you have to get the book to the freakin' presses as soon as the announcement is made. Putting the book out months later is anticlimatic (or is it anitclimactic? well birders have never been real well at grammar), at best.

The second problem is that the book...well, we're not sure it really has a point. Part of this is due to point number one, but part of it is due to the fact that nothing really unknown or exciting happens in the book...we already know how the story has ended. The Gallagher book has three distinct parts of the story: a beginning (IBWO history and stuff), a middle (interviewing crazy people and searching for the bird), and an end (we found the bird--hooray!). But Hill's's all "middle." It's all about the search, which is, in and of itself, pretty boring. We heard some knocks, somebody saw a bird in flight, repeat and rinse. After that happens two or three times, it gets tedious.

Which gets us to the oddest part of the book, the epilogue, which is the reason for this post. You see, in the second to last paragraph of the entire book, Hill takes a major swipe at long-time Chicago area birder Jeff Sanders, who allegedly saw an IBWO in the 1960s near Eglin AFB in Florida. Hill basically says Sanders made it up. As soon as we read that, we thought, "Shit, we have to say something about that!" Then when we were drafting this post, we did our customary checking of Tom Nelson's site, only to find that this morning Tom had posted that precise passage from the book. (What are the odds of that? See But still, this particular paragraph deserves a bit more scrutiny.

First, frankly, it is very odd to use, as the almost final paragraph of a book about sketchy IBWO sightings, a paragraph attacking someone else's sketchy IBWO report. Second, we are pretty shocked that the publisher let this paragraph stay in without any specific or detailed reference to the journal issue that allegedly includes the retraction of certain of Jeff's sightings. Citing Ken Able is not really going to cut it, legally at least. Jeff Sanders is still alive and is still an active birder, and we're sure that he would have had a few choice words for Geoff Hill if Hill had bothered to just contact him. But what comes around goes around, right?

Anyway, we would be extremely interested if anyone has any further information on this string of allegedly sketchy sightings by "Sanders and Brown", or if anyone has an actual copy of the journal that contains the alleged retraction.

Local birding lore claims that the long-running feud between the Chicago Urban CBC and the Chicago Lakefront CBC arose out of some questionable sightings that were submitted on behalf of the Chicago Urban CBC by Jeff Sanders. The way we heard the story, that count used to have national high counts of numerous species, for example, they would always report something like "1,000,000 Rock Doves," and when somebody at the national level actually asked them how they could count exactly 1,000,000 Rock Doves, it was learned that they were counting birds per block, then multiplying that number by the number of blocks in the circle to get an "estimate" of the number of that species for the entire circle. We don't know if that's true, and we don't know if that's even what Ken Able is referring to in Hill's book, but we sure would like to find out. Not quite the Hastings Rarities Affair, but it's all we've got.


Bill Pulliam said...

That really lept out at me, too. Of course I tried googling every set of keywords I could come up with, but to no avail. Must be buried in that strange, obscure, occult material known as the "print literature"...

Anonymous said...

It's all so incestuous. One clueless birder trashing another? Who are we to believe?

Neither or both? It's just too convoluted. Like an Oliver Stone movie. But without an ending.

Birding is NOT a crime!!!! said...

C'mon, people, someone out there has to know the full story on this one!

Don't make Bill go to the library to find it!

The SORA online archives were no help, either, so the library may be our only hope. Or someone could just e-mail Ken Able.

Jochen said...

Just a reminder: Only a handful of days left to send your submission to I and the Bird #47 to either Mike or me. That means you too, Bill!