Wednesday, January 16, 2008
An email from Dudley, our curator of mammals and birds, alerted me to the arrival of these medium-sized diving ducks. He told me that they were bred in a protected environment at a facility in Wisconsin, and that they will join our Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura amaicensis jamaicensis) in the Shorebird Sanctuary before the end of January. Dudley’s email triggered the need to develop an Online Learning Center (OLC) fact sheet about these migratory ducks. Here is how the Volunteer Interpretive Writing Committee develops a fact sheet.
The task starts with Internet and library searches for information. As a result of extensive experience we have learned to differentiate reliable Internet sources from those that are less dependable. It is amazing how much misinformation is copied from one website to another! Over time we have developed what we consider to be the most reliable websites and books for selected species. In the case of birds these are the subscription online Birds of North America and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The conservation section of the fact sheet is a tricky one. Books are not a good source except for historical information and many websites do not update their information and conservation issues do change with time. To find the most current information we check the websites of the various state and federal agencies that protect terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. If the information needs clarification we call our contacts at California Fish and Game, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and our NOAA neighbors on Ocean Boulevard in the NOAA Office of Fisheries.
Checking various parts of the fact sheet may require emails or phone calls to numerous agencies, organizations, and individuals. An example: Where in southern California can our readers see American Goldeneyes in the wild? After a series of phone calls, we learned that this California area is not a common migratory stopover (three phone calls) and that the birds seem to prefer wintering in northern California at places like the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (two phone calls). This information ended up as an amazing fact. We try to find bits and pieces of unusual or captivating information to feature as a main amazing fact on the brief description page of the fact sheet to entice our readers to go to the full description.
Once the text is written, it is checked for any new words that need to be added to the OLC’s glossary. Now the fact sheet is ready for review. The reviewer may be Dudley, Perry, director of husbandry, or an outside expert especially knowledgeable about the subject or species.
While waiting for the reviewer’s input, we search for images to illustrate the fact sheet. First, are there any in the Aquarium’s photo library (in the case of new additions this is not usually the case)? Can we smooth-talk a staff member into taking a photo? Are any available on the Internet that are in the public domain, (usually from government agencies)? The last resort is to contact owners of copyrighted material and ask for permission to use their images. Nine times out of ten permission is granted. Occasionally the payment requested is complimentary tickets to the Aquarium. Once an image is identified, we use Photoshop software to convert it to the size allocated in the fact sheet for photos and sometime we tweak the photo to improve the lighting or color.
Finally, as the saying goes, “all the ducks are in order”, and it is time to transfer the text document to the Online Learning Center’s web page and add the images and links. This is done section by section, link by link. Then categories need to be selected, easy in the case of birds since there is only one. The addition to the OLC is finally launched by selecting the open option. For the result for the American Goldeneye, check the Online Learning Center in February.
Want to see a cousin of the American Goldeneye, the smallest of the diving ducks, in the wild? Visit the Bolsa Chica Eccological Reserve and look for the Buffleheads, Bucephala albeola.
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