This past week I expanded my publishing repertoire. In addition to this blog, I have now published my first contribution to the Wikipedia online encyclopedia.
In The Null Survey, I incorrectly referred to hearing Boreal Owls in the distance while on a Nightjar survey. I had originally considered that the sound I was hearing was instead a Wilson's Snipe. I searched four sources looking for any reference of Wilson's Snipe being active long after dark including two traditional field guides and two online sources. This included Wikipedia. None of the four sources made any reference to Wilson's Snipe winnowing after dark. I therefore concluded that I was hearing Boreal Owls.
In Snipe Hunt, I describe my return to the area to validate if I was hearing Wilson's Snipe or Boreal Owls. I was hearing Wilson's Snipe.
The question is how can I share my experience with others so that they might avoid making the same embarrassing mistake. For three of the sources it would require contacting the authors and convincing them that the change would be valuable, then waiting for the next edition. I already know that further clarification of the possible confusion would have helped me. The great aspect of the Wikipedia project is that as a public resource it can be enhanced and improved by the public. I can use my personal experience to help educate others to avoid making a similar mistake.
I invested a few minutes, which is all it took, to improve the Wilson's Snipe and Boreal Owl pages of Wikipedia. They now cross reference the similarities of sounds between the two species and the fact that the Snipe is active after dark. If these clarifications were to help a single individual, then it was worth my time.
Wikipedia is an excellent project which I am using more and more. As such I expect that this will not be my last contribution. My experience has proven that you don't have to be an expert to make a valuable contribution.